Featured Image Source: NASA
NASA's Commercial Crew Program funded SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft development to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. The agency has not launched astronauts from American soil in nearly a decade. SpaceX will perform its first crewed launch in a couple of weeks. On May 27th at around 4:32 p.m. Eastern Time, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from historic Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying NASA veteran astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission is referred to as Demo-2, it is a test flight to the International Space Station (ISS) that will demonstrate to NASA the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s capabilities.
Together with @SpaceX, we will return human spaceflight to American soil after nearly a decade. May 27 is not only a big day for our teams – it’s a big day for our country.— NASA (@NASA) May 9, 2020
What does our @Commercial_Crew launch mean to YOU? Share using #LaunchAmerica: https://t.co/6jl1K8JXPI pic.twitter.com/VCNzlRzHYC
The first crewed rocket launch comes during a time when the United States has been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic which has rapidly spread across the globe. The mission will bring some inspiration to the nation. The Kennedy Space Center will remain closed to the public, and government officials are urging people to stay home due to the COVID-19 virus. “The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a news briefing, “We’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center… that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.” Bridenstine encouraged the public to watch the launch virtually. The agency will live-stream the event via NASA TV’s website. Bridenstine says launching astronauts to the International Space Station is essential. Astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory conduct hundreds of experiments that aid in the creation of new medicine and technology for Earth. “This is a very exciting time,” he stated, “The International Space Station is a critical capability for the United States of America; having access to it is also critical. We are moving forward very rapidly with this program that is so important to our nation and, in fact, to the entire world.”
On Monday, the astronauts conducted final training inside of a Dragon simulator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Then performed other pre-flight preparations with SpaceX and NASA teams at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley already completed their training this week and are about to enter ‘medical’ quarantine mode for three weeks. During this time, astronauts will remain isolated in a special room to monitor their health and ensure they do not contract any illnesses before embarking on a voyage to space. Behnken shared – “Wow, preparation for the 1st NASA/SpaceX crewed mission to Space Station is coming to an end! In a few days we start 1st phase medical quarantine, 3 weeks prior to our 27 May 2020 launch! Even the preparations have been an exciting ride!” Behnken wrote via Twitter. Then, he shared training ended alongside a photograph, “L-3 weeks means training complete! It also means that the launch and mission memorabilia is coalescing...” he wrote on May 7th.
In a few days, astronauts will go into quarantine-mode. A spokesperson at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Brandi Dean, stated the Astronaut’s quarantine will formally initiate on May 13th. They will spend a couple of weeks inside a special quarantine room at Johnson Space Center in Texas, then privately fly on a NASA aircraft to Florida on May 20 to perform final launch preparations at the Kennedy Space Center.
The quarantine period is a routine spaceflight preparation, done ahead every spaceflight. It is to ensure astronauts do not take any diseases along with them to the space station and infect other crew members or the environment in the space lab. Though, due to the coronavirus outbreak, NASA has enforced stricter measures to not jeopardize the astronaut's health. During quarantine, astronauts will only be allowed to interact with a few family members and mission-essential personnel who will constantly receive medical screenings. “We’re already in quarantine with our families, and we plan to continue that,” Behnken shared. “NASA has a plan to get our families to Kennedy in a quarantined fashion, and then to allow us to continue to see each other.”
“What will be different is the causeway and the number of guests who will be able to watch form a distance, normally in large groups kind of looking across the water and seeing the launch happen,” Behnken said. “We’re not expecting that to be possible based on the COVID-19 situation. So folks will be hopefully watching at home on their computers, or on television, when we launch into space rather than seeing it with their own eyes, which is a little bit of a disappointment,” he added. “But with the situation, I think it’s the right thing for folks to stay protected.”
Astronaut Hurley shared he won’t have many friends or family present for the launch. “It certainly is a disappointing aspect of the pandemic,” he said. “We won’t have the luxury of having our family and friends being there at Kennedy to watch the launch. But, obviously, it’s the right thing to do in the current environment. We want everybody to be safe. We want everybody to enjoy this and relish this moment in U.S. space history, but be safe and enjoy it from a distance.”
Hurley shared a cute drawing his son drew of the Dragon spacecraft via Twitter, pictured below.
-Good luck to NASA and SpaceX!
Our son’s version of Crew Dragon. I love it. pic.twitter.com/GIYRRMOXd4— Col. Doug Hurley (@Astro_Doug) April 30, 2020
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.