Featured Image Source: SpaceX
The United States has not launched NASA Astronauts to space ever since the Space Shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. The agency funded SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft development under a Commercial Crew Contract to return human spaceflight capabilities to America. Now, almost ten years later, NASA and SpaceX will launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Tomorrow, May 27, SpaceX will conduct its first crewed mission. A Falcon 9 rocket will lift off at 4:33 p.m. EDT. from Launch Complex 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying NASA Astronaut Robert “Bob” Behnken and Astronaut Douglas “Doug” Hurley aboard the Dragon spacecraft. Launch Pad 39A is the same location where the Saturn V rocket lifted off from to propel astronauts to the Lunar surface during the agency’s Apollo moon landing program.
Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon will lift off from Launch Complex 39A – the same place Saturn V launched humanity to the Moon and from where the first and final Space Shuttle missions lifted off pic.twitter.com/wOSsbCRqi7— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 25, 2020
The SpaceX mission that will reignite a new era in spaceflight is referred to as Demo-2, NASA stated in a press release: “The test flight also will provide valuable data toward certification of SpaceX’s crew transportation system for regular flights carrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX currently is readying the hardware for the first space station crew rotational mission, which would happen after data from this test flight is reviewed for certification.” SpaceX announced earlier today:
“Team is performing additional pre-flight checkouts of Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, and the ground support system ahead of tomorrow’s Demo-2 mission. Weather forecast for launch is 60% favorable.”
Team is performing additional pre-flight checkouts of Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, and the ground support system ahead of tomorrow’s Demo-2 mission. Weather forecast for launch is 60% favorable. pic.twitter.com/RgzkPfS8LW— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 26, 2020
Astronaut Hurley, who is 53 years old, will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing, and recovery. While, Astronaut Behnken, 49 years old, will be the joint operations commander for the Demo-2 mission. He will be responsible for Dragon’s rendezvous to the orbiting laboratory, as well as docking and undocking the craft. Both, have two Space Shuttle missions of experience and have logged thousands of hours piloting supersonic jets. In fact, Hurley was part of the crew that flew on the final Space Shuttle Atlantis mission in 2011.
NASA selected the brave pair for SpaceX's first crewed mission in 2018, their extensive experience and determination qualified them to become NASA astronauts. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared his excitement, “I’ve often said that our astronauts are the best America has to offer. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are truly the best of us. Godspeed tomorrow.”
The Crew Dragon spacecraft can carry up to seven passengers, its about 13 feet in diameter. The craft features a modern system that is controlled by three touchscreen displays, that are responsive by SpaceX-designed spacesuits. When the spacecraft is launched into orbit by Falcon 9, it will separate and fire up its own thrusters to begin maneuvering toward the space station’s docking port. Crew Dragon is capable of operating with full autonomy. However, during Wednesday’s mission, one of the test objectives is to switch to manual control to test the craft’s capabilities. Testing the manual feature ensures the system works in case future crews need to pilot craft due to a technology glitch or emergency, “The Dragon spacecraft does have a lot of capabilities for us to intervene manually.” Behnken said, “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. [Hurley] …Should have the opportunity a couple of times during the [Demo-2] flight to manually fly the vehicle with those interfaces."
For the first time since 2011, we’re sending American astronauts back to space, on an American rocket, from American soil. And we would like you to join us for launch – at a safe virtual distance!— NASA (@NASA) May 26, 2020
Here's how you can be our guest as we #LaunchAmerica: https://t.co/4bvi0vmJqH pic.twitter.com/ZALtTVbOUp
The astronauts voyage aboard Dragon will be about 19 hours. By May 28, Behnken and Hurley are expected to arrive and dock to the space station at 11:39 a.m. EDT. on Thursday, where they will stay to work until another Crew Dragon spacecraft is ready to send the next astronaut group on the next Crew-1 operational mission. They told reporters last week, they could spend up to 3 months at the orbiting laboratory. “Although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, the specific mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement,” the agency wrote. When the Astronauts return to Earth, they will hop aboard Crew Dragon and cross the atmosphere to perform a parachute-assisted landing in the Atlantic Ocean. "SpaceX has completed nearly 100 tests and flights of its Dragon parachute systems for cargo missions and in development of the upgraded Mark 3 design—one of the safest, most reliable parachute systems in the world for human spaceflight," the company stated.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley are best friends who both married astronauts and attended each other’s wedding. Astronaut Hurley is married to a NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg. And Astronaut Behnken is also married to a NASA Astronaut, Katherine Megan McArthur. Behnken and Hurley both have a small son under the age of ten.
During a recent interview, the astronauts were asked what makes them “badass.” They proceeded to share what makes each other “badass.”
“Doug is ready for anything all the time. He is always prepared and when you're going to fly into space on a test mission you could couldn’t ask for a better person. Or a better type of individual to be there with you," Behnken said, "So, I am just thankful that doing something like this – I'm doing it with Doug Hurley because he is going to be prepared for whatever comes our way and he is …prepared quickly. So, I couldn’t ask for more.”
“As far as Bob, he is quite the bad [ass] –and I’ll let you put in the next word,” Hurley joked, in reference to the word ‘ass.’ – he continued: “But there is no stone unturned no way that he doesn’t have every potential eventuality already thought about you know, five times ahead of anybody else…So, there’s no question I can ask him that he doesn’t quite already have…the best answer for… It’s such a pleasure … it’s such an asset to have somebody like that on a crew with you. […] He’s already had it all figured out. Everything that we could possibly - potentially -deal with and it just makes it so much easier when you have somebody like that with your crew.”
NASA will Livestream all pre-launch activities and launch day operations tomorrow May 27, starting at 2:25 p.m. EDT. Pre-launch coverage will include a musical performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Grammy Award-winning pop-rock singer Kelly Clarkson.
While you wait for the historic mission to space, watch live-views of the spacecraft that will roar to life tomorrow in the video below! Good luck to SpaceX and NASA!
Looking for live views of the launch pad? We got you covered. 🚀👀— NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) May 26, 2020
Check out the rocket that will carry @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug to the @Space_Station live at Launch Complex 39A before launch on May 27 at 4:33 p.m. ET: https://t.co/E5oYS5TKWV pic.twitter.com/5ZiHK82f0N
All dates are in Eastern Time.
Wednesday, May 27
12:15 p.m. – NASA TV launch coverage begins (continues through docking)
4:33 p.m. – Liftoff
5:22 p.m. – Crew Dragon phase burn
6:05 p.m. – Far-field manual flight test
7:05 p.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
7:30 p.m. – Administrator postlaunch news conference at Kennedy
NASA Administrator Bridenstine
Kathy Lueders, SpaceX representative
Kirk Shireman, NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester
Thursday, May 28
7:20 a.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
11:39 a.m. – Docking
1:55 p.m. – Hatch Open
2:25 p.m. – Welcome ceremony
4:15 p.m. – Post-Arrival News Conference at Johnson
Mark Geyer, director, NASA’s Johnson Space Center
NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester
Friday, May 29
11:05 a.m. – Space Station crew news conference, with NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken, and Doug Hurley
12:50 p.m. – SpaceX employee event and Class of 2020 Mosaic presentation, with NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken, and Doug Hurley