Featured Image Source: NASA TV broadcast
NASA's Commercial Crew Program funded SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft development to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. NASA veteran Astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley are ready to launch to the International Space Station aboard the spacecraft. The flight will be the first crewed mission launched from American soil in almost a decade. The mission is known as Demo-2, scheduled for May 27th. A Falcon 9 rocket will liftoff from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, and deploy the Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit at around 4:32 p.m. EDT. By May 28th, astronauts are expected to arrive at the space station with cargo aboard. They could spend up to three months conducting science experiments at the orbiting laboratory.
“It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand-new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend, here, Doug Hurley,” Behnken said during a news conference this week, as Hurley seated beside him. “It’s a great honor to be part of this mission,” Hurley added. “It’s amazing after all this time to be less than a month away from launch down in Florida.”
"I'm really excited for this NASA and SpaceX mission to bring human spaceflight back to the Florida coast," Behnken added. He looked at the camera and said:
"Hello to my son Theodore, Hi Theo! – On my first flight, I didn't have a small child, I didn't have a son, so I'm really excited to share the mission with him."
Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, governments across the nation issued ‘stay-at-home’ orders, so, the Kennedy Space Center will be closed to the public. His son might not be able to witness the launch in person. Hurley stated:
“We won’t have the luxury of having our family and friends being there at Kennedy to watch the launch. But, obviously, it’s the right thing to do in the current environment. We want everybody to be safe. We want everybody to enjoy this and relish this moment in U.S. space history, but be safe and enjoy it from a distance.”
The agency will live-stream the launch on NASA TV and its website.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley have extensive experience as pilots; they carried out Space Shuttle missions to the space station. Additionally, they have been training for about six years for Demo-2. Demo-2 is actually a test demonstration flight. In which they will carry out a series of test objectives to ensure SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft is safe to transport astronauts during operational missions. Both astronauts collaborated with SpaceX to design interior controls and display features in the Dragon spacecraft, "Every display and every procedure that is presented to crews in the future is going to have multiple items...that are our inputs," Behnken shared.
"Every display and every procedure that is presented to crews in the future is going to have multiple items...that are our inputs."— NASA (@NASA) May 1, 2020
—@AstroBehnken remarks on how he & @Astro_Doug have worked with @SpaceX to develop the #CrewDragon displays. Watch: https://t.co/7qDWoY4XMS pic.twitter.com/BU6FwAYAll
Crew Dragon is capable of operating with full autonomy. However, during the Demo-2 mission, 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 stated. "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." He said that Hurley "should have the opportunity a couple of times during the [Demo-2] flight to manually fly the vehicle with those interfaces."
In spaceflight, we prepare for the unexpected. @Astro_Doug shares which contingencies he and @AstroBehnken have trained for with the @Commercial_Crew and @SpaceX teams -- and how they are similar to shuttle training. #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/n7RM7HQpXG— Intl. Space Station (@Space_Station) May 1, 2020
"We specifically, as part of this test flight, designed in some time in the pre-flight phase as well as close to space station so we can test out actual manual flying capability of the vehicle and verify that it handles the way we expect it to," Hurley added. "It's a prudent part of our flight test, just like anything else, in case the eventuality happened for a future crew that needed to take over manually and fly the spacecraft." In the video linked above, Hurley talks about the training process.
Wow, preparation for the 1st @NASA/@SpaceX crewed mission to @Space_Station is coming to an end! In a few days we start 1st phase medical quarantine, 3 weeks prior to our 27 May 2020 launch! Even the preparations have been an exciting ride! pic.twitter.com/In35FoMO3j— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) May 3, 2020
Behnken shared today (May 3rd) the Demo-2 training is 'coming to an end.' In a few days, astronauts will go into quarantine-mode for a period of three weeks ahead of the Demo-2 mission. “Wow, preparation for the 1st NASA/SpaceX crewed mission to Space Station is coming to an end! In a few days we start 1st phase medical quarantine, 3 weeks prior to our 27 May 2020 launch! Even the preparations have been an exciting ride!” he wrote via Twitter. Quarantine phase, will ensure astronauts stay healthy before the vital mission.