Featured Image Source: NASA
NASA's Commercial Crew Program funded SpaceX's Crew Dragon development to conduct crewed flights from the United States. The agency has launched astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard Russian spacecraft since 2011. SpaceX's first crewed flight will return human spaceflight capabilities to America. Spaceflight Now reports, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is “fairly confident” that Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will conduct the Demo-2 mission aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule in late May or early June – despite of the coronavirus outbreak which has disrupted many industries. Bridenstine stated:
“I think we’re really good shape. I’m fairly confident that we can launch at the end of May. If we do slip, it’ll probably be into June. It won’t be much.”
NASA reduced on-site personnel as a precaution to avoid spreading the COVID-19 respiratory illness. Behnken shared they live in a “quarantine bubble” to not put their health in jeopardy before the important Demo-2 mission. Astronauts are actively training for the mission. They recently practiced an emergency escape drill using the slide-wire egress system, on Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (video below).
On April 3, @NASA and @SpaceX conducted an emergency egress exercise at Launch Complex 39A at @NASAKennedy.— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) April 7, 2020
This demonstration was completed to ensure the crew & support teams can quickly evacuate from the launch pad in the unlikely event of an emergency: https://t.co/5xYN51WHGp pic.twitter.com/75LTRoyMKA
The agency is working alongside SpaceX to prepare the spacecraft for the mission, and are in the process of conducting final parachute safety tests and system checks. Most of NASA’s personnel are working from home, only “mission-essential” personnel are working hands-on operations. The agency even closed down its visitor centers and launch viewing stadiums.
"…The people that are working on commercial crew right now are practicing social distancing and [wearing] personal protective equipment."
Bridenstine told Spaceflight Now reporters. “We’ve moved and changed shifts so that fewer people are in the room when you have to have multiple people in the same room. So we’ve done a lot of those things to make sure that you’re as safe as possible working on these missions. […] We’ve also said, if people don’t feel safe, they don’t have to work on the mission. I’ve been very clear with all of the agency leaders that nobody should feel pressure to do work if they don’t feel safe. And as leaders, we need to make sure that if somebody does bring up the fact that they don’t feel safe, we need to give them some other work to do, where they do feel safe, and then make adjustments.” Bridenstine also shared plans on what the agency will do if a “mission-essential” employee contracts coronavirus, “If there is a positive case on commercial crew, depending on where it is and how the person is doing the work, it may or may not impact the mission. […] If it’s somebody who is very rare contact with other people, on the mission, then we might have to do some tracing,” he said, “What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to mitigate the fact that if there is a case, that we can quickly identify the people that that person was in contact with, and do the tracing and get all the people that were that were involved off the mission and replace them with other people.” Bridenstine also stated that if there was a virus outbreak with NASA personnel it would affect the Demo-2 mission’s date -
“If there’s an outbreak, yeah, it will affect the date. But we’re doing everything we can to minimize that eventuality.”
When Crew Dragon takes off atop a Falcon 9 rocket, it is expected to bring back the excitement and pride America felt when Astronauts launched aboard the Space Shuttle. Bridenstine shared a photograph via Twitter of the Falcon 9 rocket standing vertically at historic Launch Pad 39A with Dragon attached at the top. The rocket features NASA’s retro “worm” logo, symbolizing the return of crewed flights.
We’re bringing back the worm, but the @NASA meatball isn’t going anywhere. Check out how the @SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will look when we launch @AstroBehnken & @Astro_Doug to the @Space_Station. More: https://t.co/5RewV8ayAb pic.twitter.com/aHObOVEmR8— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) April 8, 2020
“Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will go up as not just demonstration pilots for Demo-2, but they would actually become crew on-board the International Space Station for a period of months to do work, and they would continue to operate on the ISS. And then when we’re ready with the next Crew Dragon, they’ll come home,” Bridenstine said. The craft will stay docked for about two or three months to the station, then they will return to Earth aboard the spacecraft. Dragon is equipped with parachutes; it will conduct a parachute-assisted splashdown into the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral’s coast. It will be the first time SpaceX returns humans from space aboard its spacecraft. “We will do a full evaluation of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon, so we’ll be on Earth for about a month with the Demo-2 Crew Dragon just doing inspections and evaluations and making sure that it’s safe," Bridenstine said, "...then when we make sure that it operated how we expected it to operate, we’ll be ready to launch right into crewed missions for normal operations."