Image Source: NASA
With the In-Flight Abort (IFA) test successfully completed over the weekend, SpaceX demonstrated their spacecraft is capable of rescuing astronauts if there were to be a rocket failure. During the uncrewed demonstration IFA mission, engineers caused the Dragon spacecraft's engines to ignite about 90 seconds after lift-off to escape the Falcon 9 rocket while 'In-Flight.' The rocket shutdown it's engines to simulate a dangerous scenario then aerodynamically broke down, exploding into the Atlantic Ocean. As Crew Dragon safely conducted a parachute-assisted landing miles away from the coast in the ocean.
Crew Dragon separating from Falcon 9 during today’s test, which verified the spacecraft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency on ascent pic.twitter.com/rxUDPFD0v5— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 19, 2020
Ever since Elon Musk, founded SpaceX in 2002, he has dreamed with launching people into space. Now, the company is getting closer to launching their first manned mission on-board Crew Dragon. Dragon's first unmanned demonstration mission, Demo-1, to the International Space Station (ISS) was last year, in March 2019 (video below).
Dragon became the first spacecraft in history to dock autonomously to the orbiting laboratory. That day, SpaceX demonstrated their technology is capable of reliably taking astronauts to the space station. The NASA astronauts who will be part of SpaceX's first crewed flight, known as Demo-2 or DM-2, will be Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Both are spaceflight veterans who have been part of many voyages to space. NASA has been launching astronauts onboard Russian spacecraft since 2011. So for almost a decade, the agency has paid billions of dollars to Russia for seats aboard their Soyuz rocket. Under NASA Commercial Crew Program, American-made spacecraft development is being funded. SpaceX is one of the companies that has been awarded a contract. Musk told reporters:
"It's just going to be wonderful to get astronauts back into orbit from American soil after almost a decade of not being able to do so. I think that's super exciting."
Path to DM-2: pic.twitter.com/i94OLgSzz6— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) January 19, 2020
The first manned rocket launch from the United States could happen sometime this year. When asked, Musk said that it could happen as soon as the second quarter this year, which is a period that begins in April. In a press conference after Crew Dragon's successful launch escape test Musk explained, "The hardware necessary for the crewed launch, I believe will be ready by the end of February. However, there is still a lot of work once the hardware is ready...to triple check...go over everything again. Until every stone has been turned over three or four times. And there is also the schedule for getting to the space station, so, because the space station has a lot of things going to it so when is the right timing for this...So, the sort of collective wisdom at this point is that we are highly confident the hardware will be ready in Q1 (quarter one of the year) most likely end of February but no later than March... We think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter." So, SpaceX will make sure every single piece of hardware in their spacecraft is working at optimal levels and perform several more safety checks before performing the long-awaited crewed debut flight to space.
After the successful In-Flight Abort test, Musk joked promising he would dance in celebration after the Demo-2 crewed mission takes place (video below).
"I am not your dancing puppet...after crew launch, 100 percent," @elonmusk responded after being asked to dance following a press conference.— Michael Baylor (@nextspaceflight) January 19, 2020
I consider that a promise. 🤣
Full video of Elon's chat with the media following the SpaceX inflight abort test: https://t.co/RJwvWFQl7D pic.twitter.com/ewTnUNXUht
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that they have not decided if the first manned flight to the space station would be a short or long duration flight - that is still in debate, he said, "We would launch DM-2 as a short duration test flight and then we would have an operational flight test later with our two astronauts here. They would do a long-term, long duration flight. So that's one solution, and that's where things stand as of right now but we could make that first crew (flight) a longer duration crew for the purpose of getting the maximum amount of capability out of the International Space Station."
SpaceX recently shared a video animation of what would happen during their first crewed mission. In it we could see the two astronauts arriving in a Tesla Model X electric vehicle to historic Launch Pad 39A at Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Center, where the Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from.
Watch Animation Video:
Exciting weekend! Had fun dry-running @SpaceX Crew Dragon pre-launch activities--w/space suits & modern transport. Saw first hand demo of Dragon's launch escape system. Two very different types of excitement (check our faces)! Super proud of what the team has accomplished! pic.twitter.com/ppHWm3ymDJ— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) January 20, 2020
Over the weekend during the In-Flight Abort test, even though it was an uncrewed test flight all SpaceX and NASA staff acted as if it was a real mission and Astronauts Behnken and Hurley actually arrived in a Tesla Model X looking pretty sleek wearing their SpaceX-designed spacesuits. "The past few days have been an incredible experience for us," said astronaut Hurley. "We started with a full dress rehearsal of what Bob and I will do for our mission [...] We watched the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use, but can save lives if we ever do. It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point, and we can’t wait to take a ride to the space station soon." This year, that video animation above could become a reality. By April we could see SpaceX and NASA getting ready to launch the first manned mission from American soil after almost a decade!