Featured Image Source: NASA / Bill Ingalls
Today, May 21st, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft atop Falcon 9 rocket was rolled out to Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, and raised vertical for debut crewed flight, scheduled for May 27th at 4:32 p.m. Eastern Time. The crew that will be launched on a voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) next week are a pair of NASA Astronauts, veteran Space Shuttle pilots Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley.
The mission, known as Demo-2, will mark the first crewed rocket flight launched from American soil in nearly a decade. Demo-2 is a test flight to certify the Crew Dragon spacecraft can safely and reliably transport humans to space. The brave astronauts Behnken and Hurley will pave the way towards launching crews more frequently from the United States.
Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 in the hangar at Launch Complex 39A pic.twitter.com/l758CdYXNQ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 21, 2020
Before Dragon was attached atop Falcon 9, its engines and thrusters were fueled with hypergolic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants. Then crews attached Dragon atop Falcon 9, horizontally inside a hangar, and made sure all mechanisms work well. SpaceX crews transported it about four miles from the hangar to Launch Pad 39A at KSC, and used a crane to lift the gigantic 215-feet rocket vertically. “The rocket, topped by the Crew Dragon spacecraft, arrived at the launch pad Thursday morning,” NASA shared.
Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon are vertical on the launch pad pic.twitter.com/2nw9h0jxde— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 21, 2020
SpaceX will conduct a static-fire test soon. The special Falcon 9 will be fueled with rocket-grade kerosene and cryogenic liquid oxygen propellants. During the static-firing, the rocket’s nine Merlin 1D engines will be ignited for a few seconds while its grounded to the launch pad. The test is to assess the rocket has no issues before flight. It the brief firing goes smoothly, the rocket booster will launch Behnken and Hurley into orbit on Wednesday. The agency shared a series of photographs via Twitter of the rocket raised at the launch complex.
The @SpaceX Crew Dragon is rolled out to the launch pad and raised vertical ahead of the launch of @NASA astronauts @AstroBehnken & @Astro_Doug from @NASAKennedy to the @Space_Station. More #LaunchAmerica Photos: https://t.co/8due5jBg5Y pic.twitter.com/OeAeMIjxsh— NASA HQ PHOTO (@nasahqphoto) May 21, 2020
“Meanwhile, NASA and SpaceX managers are gathered at Kennedy, with some participating remotely to maintain physical distance, for the Demo-2 Flight Readiness Review (FRR). The review will focus on the readiness of SpaceX’s crew transportation system; the readiness of the station program and its international partners to support the flight; and the certification of flight readiness,” NASA wrote in a press release. As crews prepare the rocket at the launch pad, the Flight Readiness Review prepares mission-essential personnel ahead of the historic mission that will return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States of America.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley have extensive experience as Space Shuttle and military pilots. During the Demo-2 mission, they will carry out a series of test objectives to ensure SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is safe to transport astronauts during operational missions. Behnken and Hurley have been training at SpaceX headquarters for years on Dragon mock-up simulators, to familiarize themselves with every software and hardware feature. “When we evaluated the touchscreen interface we really did focus on the task at hand and trying to get good performance for that specific task,” Behnken said earlier this month. Crew Dragon is capable of operating with full autonomy. However, during Demo-2, 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 added, “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."
SpaceX released an interactive online simulator that is a replica of what Astronauts Behnken and Hurley used to train for the Demo-2 mission. The interactive simulator allows players to try to dock the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, using similar controls the astronauts will use during their voyage in space. Crew Dragon Simulator Game -Try it out while you wait for launch day!
The astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center yesterday, where they will review launch day preparedness and perform a dress rehearsal ahead of the debut flight. NASA will broadcast all events Live via NASA TV, video and schedule below.
(All times in Eastern Time)
Thursday, May 21
No earlier than 6 p.m. – Demo-2 post-Flight Readiness Review news conference
Friday, May 22
(time pending) -Flight Readiness Review -continues
2:15 p.m. – Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley virtual media question-and-answer session
Monday, May 25
No earlier than 6 p.m. – Demo-2 prelaunch news conference
Tuesday, May 26
10 a.m. – NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine media availability at Kennedy’s Countdown Clock
Wednesday, May 27
Noon – Live views of the SpaceX/Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center
12:15 p.m. – Live countdown coverage of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station (launch scheduled at 4:33 p.m.)
6 p.m. – Demo-2 postlaunch news conference
Thursday, May 28
11:39 a.m. – Docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station
1:55 p.m. – SpaceX Crew Dragon hatch opening to the International Space Station
2:25 p.m. – SpaceX Crew Dragon and International Space Station crew media event aboard the space station
Friday, May 29
11:05 a.m. – International Space Station Expedition 63 crew news conference with space station Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
12:50 p.m. – International Space Station Expedition 63 in-flight event for SpaceX to mark the arrival of the Demo-2 crew
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.