Featured Image Source: NASA
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched NASA Astronauts Robert ‘Bob’ Behnken and Douglas ‘Doug’ Hurley aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30th. The successful mission, referred to as Demo-2, marked the first time in nearly ten years that the agency deploys astronauts from American soil. The Demo-2 mission is a demonstration test that aims to ensure Crew Dragon is well-suited to perform operational missions with more astronauts aboard. The astronauts at ISS and engineers at SpaceX’s Mission Control have been monitoring the spacecraft’s performance as its docked to the orbiting laboratory’s Harmony module. Behnken and Hurley joined NASA Astronaut ISS Commander Chris Cassidy, Russian Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, as members of Expedition 63.
SpaceX’s next crewed mission will launch four astronauts to the space station. This week, NASA shared the Expedition 63 astronauts performed a ‘Habitability Assessment’ which is a comfort test aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft while docked to ISS in orbit. For 1-hour, four out of the five astronauts got inside the spacecraft to see how comfortable it would be for a larger crew.
This week, the agency released a video clip of the astronauts performing the test, shown below. During the test, which took place earlier this month on July 8, the astronauts tried out some of Crew Dragon’s features and functions, including wearing their spacesuits, opening and closing the hatch, operating Dragon’s waste system, and moving cargo into the vehicle. Four expedition 63 astronauts tested Dragon’s sleeping configuration to determine how comfortable it will be for the next crew of four astronauts that are scheduled to lift off in mid-September. “As part of the demonstration, Space Station commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin joined the duo inside the spacecraft to test how a sleeping configuration would work with four people. Behnken and Hurley will continue to test Crew Dragon’s systems and perform science and maintenance onboard station until their return to Earth,” the agency wrote in a press release on July 21.
“The Expedition 63 crew demonstrated that the SpaceX Crew Dragon's systems work at the station. They verified that astronauts can live, work, and sleep while the vehicle is operating in space.”
Last week on July 17, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced – “We're targeting an August 1 departure of SpaceX's Dragon Endeavour spacecraft from the Space Station to bring Astronaut Behnken and Hurley home after their historic Launch America mission. Splashdown is targeted for August 2. Weather will drive the actual date. Stay tuned.” The agency plans to undock the spacecraft from the station’s Harmony module at around 8:00 p.m. EDT. on August 1st, to initiate a return voyage. Upon return, Dragon will cross Earth’s fiery atmosphere with Behnken and Hurley aboard, to conduct a parachute-assisted landing at sea. Their splashdown is scheduled for 2:35 p.m. EDT. on August 2nd. SpaceX has two designated landing zones, located about 24 nautical miles off the East coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean, and a backup site in the Gulf of Mexico south of Pensacola. Weather and ocean current conditions must be favorable to ensure the astronauts land safely, so, recovery teams can rescue them. It will be the first time SpaceX returns humans from space aboard Dragon. The company has previously launched and successfully returned living organisms, including mice, that have been launched by NASA to conduct scientific experiments at the ISS Lab in microgravity.