NASA has not launched astronauts to space since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded almost a decade ago. In less than 48 hours from now, SpaceX will ignite a new era in American spaceflight. The rocket company will launch NASA Astronauts on a voyage to the International Space Station aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft that will be carried into orbit by a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday, May 27 at around 4:33 p.m. Eastern time.
Falcon 9 will lift off from historic Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it is the same launch pad from where the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the Moon launched from during the agency’s Apollo program. SpaceX shared a commemorative video ahead of its debut crewed flight via Twitter:
“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.”
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
SpaceX is honored to lift off from such a historic landmark. Launch Pad 39A was designed to handle launches of the Saturn V rocket, which is one of the most powerful rockets ever designed, that propelled spacecraft to the lunar surface. Throughout the years, the launch pad was modified to launch the Space Shuttle fleet. Now, SpaceX has a 20-year lease agreement with the agency to launch rockets from historic Pad 39A.
SpaceX’s first crewed mission will launch NASA veteran Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Hurley was actually a crew member of the final Space Shuttle mission launched in 2011. He is set to make history again, as he and Behnken become the first ones to lift off from American soil in almost ten years. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated:
“We need to have the capability of accessing space, not just for NASA, but for all of humanity.”
The launch is possible through a partnership under the agency’s Commercial Crew Program that funded spacecraft’s development to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States.
SpaceX developed the Crew Dragon spacecraft under a contract valued at about $3.1 billion. Dragon can carry up to seven passengers and is capable of operating with full autonomy. During the spacecraft’s uncrewed test flight, Demo-1, it showcased its capability to operate autonomously and even docked itself to the space station’s module. During the Demo-2 mission, the Astronauts will test out the spacecraft's manual features and ensure every aspect of the craft is reliable to launch future operational mission with crew.
"The investments that we have made into SpaceX and the investment SpaceX has made in itself have really resulted in I think something that is going to be very beneficial, not just for human space exploration, but beneficial for the economy,” Bridenstine told reporters earlier this month. “Commercial Crew is going to demonstrate cost savings if you compare it to the Space Shuttle ... We’re very pleased with the level of investment that we’ve made and what we’re getting for that investment."
Astronaut Behnken shared his excitement via Twitter: “Exciting couple of days here at NASA Kennedy! Crew arrival in Florida was awesome, seeing our vehicle roll to 39A was epic, and watching our SpaceX Falcon 9 1st stage fire one more time before our mission still has a smile on my face!”
Exciting couple of days here at @NASAKennedy! Crew arrival in Florida was awesome, seeing our vehicle roll to 39A was epic, and watching our @SpaceX Falcon9 1st stage fire one more time before our mission still has a smile on my face! pic.twitter.com/RzTCC11klw— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) May 22, 2020
The NASA Astronauts rehearsed launch day operations over the weekend and spent Memorial Day with their loved ones. Astronaut Hurley shared they would spend time with their families at a beach house near the Kennedy Space Center ahead of flight.
Watch all events leading to the historic mission Live via NASA TV. Video and Schedule below.
All dates are in Eastern Time.
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.