Featured Image Source: September 2019 / SpaceX
SpaceX and NASA are running through final preparations to conduct the first crewed rocket flight launched from American soil in nearly a decade. NASA funded SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft development under a $2.6 billion Commercial Crew Program (CPP) contract. The first crewed mission will launch NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on a Falcon 9 rocket from launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission is scheduled for May this year. Its expected renew the excitement America felt when astronauts launched aboard NASA's Space Shuttle fleet.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley have been training at SpaceX headquarters inside a Dragon spacecraft simulator. Last week, NASA announced astronauts completed a series of SpaceX simulations meant to prepare them for the first flight aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. They executed a full simulation of launch and docking operations inside Firing Room 4 at KSC and SpaceX's Mission Control in Hawthorne, California headquarters. The training was in coordination with NASA flight controllers, who simulated launch day operations from the Mission Control station located in Houston, Texas. The entire training session was a full launch and docking operations of Dragon.
NASA representatives announced on March 31:
"Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program."
Dragon's first demonstration mission, Demo-1, was an uncrewed flight to the space station that showcased the craft's ability to autonomously operate, it became the first private spacecraft in American history to dock autonomously to the orbiting laboratory's module. Demo-2 will replicate the same journey but with crew on board.
September 2019 / Source: SpaceX
Astronauts also practice different operations to escape from the Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket, when its stationed at the launch pad. Staff and astronauts must prepare for any potential accident, like an explosion before liftoff caused by fueling the rocket. During an exercise that took place in September 2019, astronauts practiced an escape drill to leave the 265-foot-level launch tower as quickly as possible. Astronauts pass through a fire suppression system that sprays water, on the crew access tower of KSC launch Pad 39A (photo above). The emergency escape requires the astronauts to load into baskets on a zipline-like wire, it is NASA's Emergency Egress System.
On Friday (April 3), SpaceX tested the astronaut slidewire escape baskets at Pad 39A. Spaceflight Now captured a video showcasing how the slidewire escape basket mechanism works (shown below).
SpaceX tested astronaut slidewire escape baskets and fire suppression capabilities Friday at launch pad 39A in Florida, demonstrating rescue systems that would be activated in the event of an emergency before liftoff of a crewed mission. READ MORE: https://t.co/5NNCokiKvG pic.twitter.com/sxAWfrIoKX— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) April 3, 2020
Each basket can carry three individuals to safety. If the escape system were to be used during an emergency on the launch pad, astronauts unstrap from the Dragon vehicle quickly. They have trained to escape the spacecraft in less than 90 seconds. Then, they run towards the other side of the launch pad tower to ride into a basket to escape danger. As the basket descends the 265-foot-level tower, it arrives to the ground where an armored car is ready to drive astronauts away from the launch pad. The entire escape takes less than four minutes. Astronauts have practiced the escape drill on various occasions, it's likely they will run-through the drill again before the Demo-2 mission.
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.