Tomorrow afternoon, at around 4:33 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 in nearly a decade launched from American soil. The agency has booked Russian rockets out of Kazakhstan to launch astronauts since 2011. Thanks to a partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX is will start launching astronauts from the United States once again. “Together with SpaceX, we will return human spaceflight to American soil after nearly a decade. Tomorrow is not only a big day for our teams – it’s a big day for our country,” the agency announced. The NASA Astronauts who will perform this important mission on May 27 are Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley. They have been training tirelessly and have over a decade of experience as military pilots and Space Shuttle astronauts. Both have conducted two Space Shuttle missions, and combined they have spent nearly 1,400 hours in space at the orbiting laboratory performing science experiments. Behnken has experience performing a spacewalk.
Together with @SpaceX, we will return human spaceflight to American soil after nearly a decade. Tomorrow is not only a big day for our teams – it’s a big day for our country. https://t.co/DQ1Taz1vXU#LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/JT1zhQDKs2— NASA (@NASA) May 27, 2020
The brave duo has been preparing for this moment since NASA selected them to SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission in 2018. They have been training on advanced flight simulators to familiarize themselves with the Dragon spacecraft. They prepared at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. They will ride the Dragon spacecraft on Wednesday for the first time. Dragon is capable of carrying up to seven passengers and over 7,000 pounds of cargo aboard.
Dragon Dawn pic.twitter.com/mz1EzU5GSO— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 26, 2020
The vehicle's environmental control and life support system will provide a comfortable and safe environment for its passengers. During the voyage, astronauts on board will be able to set the spacecraft's interior temperature to between 65- and 80-degrees Fahrenheit. The craft is very different compared to the Space Shuttle. Instead of buttons, switches, and joysticks, Dragon features sleek touchscreens with advanced software. Behnken and Hurley have learned how to fly the Crew Dragon manually with just the digital screens that are responsive through their SpaceX-spacesuit gloves. “Growing up as a pilot, my whole career, having a certain way to control the vehicle, this is certainly different,” Hurley said during a press conference. “But you know, we went into it with a very open mind, I think, and worked with them to kind of refine the way that you interface with it.” He added: “It was challenging, I think, for us and for them at first to kind of work through all those different design issues. But we got to a point where the vehicle from a manual flying standpoint with the touchscreen applies very well.”
CREW DRAGON'S INTERIOR!
Inside, Dragon features a touchscreen interface that will be used to control flight operations. Most of the spacecraft's functions are controlled by touchscreens, there are only a few actual buttons inside. These screens provide orbital flight tracking. Additionally, NASA astronauts will be able to adjust the displays to look at different views of Earth. The software features an option to switch to manual control to steer the craft, displaying an attitude control view on the screens. 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 on board." A simple tap on a screen is capable of igniting Dragon's integrated space thrusters to slightly alter the craft's direction. Which is probably a function that will not be utilized often because last year Crew Dragon demonstrated its impressive technology allows it to dock autonomously to the International Space Station, with no manual intervention. The option to manually control is there, just in case it's needed. However, during the Demo-2 mission, the astronaut pilots are tasked with controlling the craft manually for some moments during their 19-hour trip to the space station to test out the feature. They are expected to arrive by May 28.
The only buttons Dragon has, are to trigger functions needed during emergency situations. For example, there is an actual button meant to be used to put out a fire, and one to conduct an 'emergency deobit.' There is also 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 inside the spacecraft. Hopefully astronauts never need to use it.
The day before our launch on the @NASA/@SpaceX Demo Mission 2, I took the time to review pre-launch activities, hone my launch operation technique, practice one more docking with @Space_Station https://t.co/1RBMI0g1Gp, and review the path home. We are ready! #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/piYtLEtoiw— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) May 27, 2020
SpaceX released a Dragon spacecraft simulator game that you can play, to attempt to dock to the space station via a touchscreen device. The company says it is a replica of what the astronauts used to train for tomorrow’s historic flight. Astronaut Behnken shared he practiced on the simulator a final time –“The day before our launch on the NASA/SpaceX Demo Mission 2, I took the time to review pre-launch activities, hone my launch operation technique, practice one more docking with Space Station, and review the path home. We are ready!” he said via Twitter. You can try to dock Dragon to the space station too!
Try the online simulator on SpaceX’s website: Crew Dragon Simulator
NASA TV will livestream all of tomorrow pre-launch activities ahead of launch starting at 2:15 p.m. EDT. You can watch the broadcast in the video below. Schedule is in Eastern Time.
Sunset pic.twitter.com/fpLhlqvuJg— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 27, 2020
NASA LIVE BROADCAST SCHEDULE
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
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.