Today, May 30, at around 3:22 p.m. EDT. SpaceX will ignite a new era in American spaceflight as a Falcon 9 rocket’s nine Merlin engines roar to life, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit with a pair of NASA astronauts onboard. It will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The mission, known as Demo-2, is set to make history because it will be the first crewed flight launched from the United States in nearly a decade. The NASA Astronauts that will conduct the Demo-2 mission are, veteran pilots Douglas “Doug” Hurley and Robert “Bob” Behnken.
All systems go for Crew Dragon’s test flight with @NASA astronauts @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug. Teams are keeping an eye on weather. Webcast will go live at ~11:00 a.m. EDT → https://t.co/bJFjLCilmc pic.twitter.com/AXDGNfqv0K— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 30, 2020
Hurley was selected as an astronaut in 2000, he served as a pilot and lead robotics operator in two Space Shuttle missions to the space station. Including the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011. During today’s SpaceX mission, Hurley will be the spacecraft’s commander, he is tasked with activities such as launch, landing, and recovery. Before becoming an astronaut, Hurley was a fighter pilot in the United States Marine Corps.
Behnken was also selected as a NASA astronaut in the year 2000, and also served on two Space Shuttle missions. Unlike Hurley, Behnken has performed three spacewalks outside the orbiting laboratory. During the Demo-2 mission, he will be the joint operations commander, responsible for rendezvous, docking, and undocking the Dragon spacecraft. Before becoming an astronaut, Behnken was a United States Air Force flight test engineer.
Crew Dragon is capable of operating autonomously and can dock itself to the space station. However, during the mission, Hurley and Behnken are tasked with switching to manual control during their 19-hour voyage, and are expected to dock to the orbiting laboratory on May 31. They will only pilot the craft manually on a couple of instances. Testing the manual feature ensures the system works in case future crews need to pilot the craft due to a technology glitch or emergency.
Learn more about Dragon’s design pic.twitter.com/Fw5OZ9Ecwm— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 27, 2020
"The Dragon spacecraft does have a lot of capabilities for us to intervene manually. We do have a series of manual capabilities that allow us to really protect ourselves if the automation was to have some sort of a problem with it," Behnken shared on during a conference on May 1, "…Should have the opportunity a couple of times during the [Demo-2] flight to manually fly the vehicle with those interfaces." Astronaut Hurley explained, he will pilot Crew Dragon manually for a couple of instances during the Demo-2 voyage to the space station, he stated - “We specifically, as part of this test flight, designed in some time in the pre-flight phase, as well as closer to the space station, so we can test out actual manual flying capability of the vehicle. Just to see and verify that it handles the way we expect it to, and the way the simulator shows it to fly. It’s a prudent part of our flight test just like anything else, in case the eventuality happened that a future crew needed to take over manually and fly the spacecraft. So, we’re just doing our part, to kinda’ test out all the different capabilities of the Crew Dragon.”
SPACE SHUTTLE COCKPIT
Behnken shared about how the Dragon spacecraft differs from the Space Shuttle – “The flying task is very unique: To come close to the space station and fly in proximity, then slowly come into contact, is maybe a little bit different from what you would see for flying a space shuttle or an aircraft,” he said. The Space Shuttle has over one thousand buttons and joysticks in the cockpit, Dragon features a set of three touchscreen displays that are responsive through SpaceX-spacesuit gloves and very minimalistic button interface. Dragon's control panels provide orbital flight tracking, the displays can be adjusted to look at different views of Earth too. The software features an option to switch to manual control to steer the craft and can display an attitude control view on the screens.
SPACEX CREW DRAGON
SpaceX says Crew Dragon's displays will provide real-time information on anything from Dragon's position in space, to possible destinations, to the environment onboard. A simple tap on a screen is capable of igniting Dragon’s integrated space thrusters to slightly alter the craft's direction. Both astronauts collaborated with SpaceX to design interior controls and display features in the Dragon spacecraft, "Every display and every procedure that is presented to crews in the future is going to have multiple items...that are our inputs," he shared. “It was challenging for us and for them at first to work through those different design issues, but we got to a point where the vehicle, from the manual flying standpoint with the touchscreen, flies very well,” Hurley added. “The difference is you’ve got to be very deliberate when you’re putting in input, relative to what you would do with a stick. Because you know, when you’re flying an airplane for example, if I push the stick forward it’s going to go down. I actually have to make a concerted effort to do that with the touchscreen, if that makes sense.” The only buttons Dragon has, are to trigger functions needed during emergencies. For example, there is one handle at the center of the console with the word "Eject" next to it. This handle is meant to be pulled only during a dangerous life-threatening situation.
SpaceX spacesuits are designed for optimum functionality with Dragon pic.twitter.com/QW4DirDirx— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 27, 2020
SpaceX's one-piece spacesuits are each especially customized for the astronaut wearing it. The suit is designed and mostly hand-made by talented seamstresses at SpaceX headquarters. The company shared a video showcasing the seamstresses working environment, shown above. The spacesuit features a single connection point between the suit and vehicle, a communications system to communicate with each other and the craft, as well as hearing protection which will protect astronaut's ears during the rocket launch ascent and spacecraft reentry. It also has two internal layers, a flame-resistant outer layer and an inner cooling system. The space helmet is 3D printed and is designed to offer solar radiation protection. The boots feature heel sliders which help to secure feet to footrests. The gloves are flexible and specifically designed to be compatible with touchscreen devices. Crew Dragon's control and pilot system consists of a trio of touchscreen displays. These slim suits won't be used for spacewalks though. The suit is meant to provide a pressurized environment for all crew members aboard the Dragon capsule, in case of an emergency such as cabin depressurization. Humans can be harmed, even die by a sudden change of pressure; the suit offers extra protection.
We are moving forward with launch today. Weather challenges remain with a 50% chance of cancellation. #LaunchAmerica— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 30, 2020
You can watch NASA Astronauts suit-up, pre-launch activities live via NASA TV in the video below, starting at 11:00 a.m EDT. NASA Administrator shared this morning -"We are moving forward with launch today. Weather challenges remain with a 50% chance of cancellation." If the weather is favorable, the Falcon 9 rocket will lift off today at 3:22 p.m. EDT. Schedule is in Eastern Time.
NASA LIVE BROADCAST SCHEDULE
Saturday, May 30
11 a.m. – NASA TV launch coverage begins (continues through docking)
3:22 p.m. – Liftoff
4:09 p.m. – Crew Dragon phase burn
4:55 p.m. – Far-field manual flight test
5:55 p.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
6:30 p.m. – Postlaunch news conference at Kennedy
Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
Kirk Shireman, manager, International Space Station Program
NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester
Sunday, May 31
6:45 a.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
10:29 a.m. – Docking
12:45 p.m. – Hatch Open
1:05 p.m. – Welcome ceremony
3:15 p.m. – Post-arrival news conference at Johnson
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer
NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester
Monday, June 1
11:15 a.m. – Space Station crew news conference, with NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken, and Doug Hurley
12:55 p.m. – SpaceX employee event and Class of 2020 Mosaic presentation, with NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken, and Doug Hurley.
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.