SpaceX conducted its first crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 30. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida propelling the Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit with NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard. The mission, referred to as Demo-2, ignited a new era in American human spaceflight. Demo-2 is a demonstration test flight to test out all of Dragon’s capabilities. The astronauts named the first SpaceX Dragon to carry humans - Endeavour. "We both had our first flights on Shuttle Endeavour, and it just meant so much to us to carry on that name," Astronaut Hurley shared.
Dragon Endeavour is currently docked to the space station’s Harmony docking module. The brave astronaut pair are tasked with inspecting Dragon’s performance while its docked as SpaceX’s mission control engineers assess the spacecraft’s data from the ground.
During a press conference, NASA’s new Associate Administrator for Human Spaceflight Exploration and Operations, Kathy Lueders, said that SpaceX’s Crew Dragon "has been doing great" at the International Space Station. Lueders was appointed to become NASA’s first woman head of human spaceflight a week ago. "It's been amazing to me over the last few days to see all the tweets, snapchats, instagrams from all the girls out there," she said, "That really helps me realize the power of being of my being first, what it means to them. They're able to see themselves in me. I'm very honored by that. And I'm expecting really big things for them, from them."
NASA's Kathy Lueders, on being the first woman to lead the office of human spaceflight:— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) June 18, 2020
"It's been amazing to me over the last few days to see all the tweets, snapchats, instagrams from all the girls out there."https://t.co/HkfmebqZAc
Lueders was previously a mission manager for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, and overlooked Crew Dragon’s debut crewed flight. Now, she will oversee everything related to human spaceflight at NASA, including the Space Station program with SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft; as well as, NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to take the first woman and the next man to the Lunar surface by 2024. During today’s press conference, reporters asked Lueders if the agency will be capable of meeting the ambitious timeline to launch humans to the moon, she said – “I don’t have a crystal ball … we’re going to try. Sometimes it’s the trying that gets us closer to the goal than the not trying.”
“Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said when she was appointed.
Today, June 18, Lueders shared that SpaceX mission control engineers enabled hibernation mode on Crew Dragon, as it is docked to the ISS’s module, to test out the system when they send a wake-up command. The test is to ensure the spacecraft can receive commands quickly in case of an emergency return to Earth. Lueders shared Dragon Endeavour has been "waking up every week" for assessment then goes back to sleep mode – “The crew on orbit have been taking it through its paces ... so far she's [Dragon] been doing great,” she said.
SpaceX’s mission ground control teams are also monitoring the status of Dragon’s solar arrays. The craft’s solar arrays have the potential to get degraded in the harsh environment of Low Earth Orbit. NASA officials said the solar panels can withstand only about 120 days. Lueders mentioned that Astronauts Behnken and Hurley are likely to return to Earth aboard Dragon ‘early August.’ The next Dragon spacecraft will be designed to withstand more time in space.
Lueders: "One of the things we want to make sure of is how comfortable is the vehicle with all 4 crew members in. How able are you to do all the tasks you need to do with all 4 crew members in it and we're getting ready to do that demonstration."— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) June 18, 2020
As Dragon returns from space, it will cross Earth’s atmosphere with Behnken and Hurley aboard. It will be the first time SpaceX returns humans from space. Upon atmospheric reentry, Dragon will conduct a parachute-assisted landing in the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico. SpaceX has two designated landing zones, located about 24 nautical miles off the East coast of Florida, and a backup site in the Gulf of Mexico south of Pensacola. Weather and ocean conditions must be favorable to ensure the astronauts land safely, so, recovery teams can rescue them upon return. The return date and landing location will be selected based on weather conditions.
SpaceX's next mission, Crew-1, will deploy four astronauts aboard Crew Dragon, "One of the things we want to make sure of is how comfortable is the vehicle with all 4 crew members in. How able are you to do all the tasks you need to do with all 4 crew members in it and we're getting ready to do that demonstration," Lueders stated. The next crew is composed of three NASA Astronauts: Victor Glover - the mission's commander - who will be the first African-American to ride Dragon, Shannon Walker -first woman to ride Dragon will be the mission's specialist, and Micheal Hopkins who will be the joint-spacecraft commander. Crew-1, features Japanese JAXA Astronaut Soichi Noguchi who will hitch a ride to the space station aboard Dragon. They are all training for the mission which is expected to take place a month after Behnken and Hurley return.
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.