Featured Image Source: NASA
NASA veteran Astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley are ready to launch to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. It will SpaceX’s first crewed launch, known as Demo-2. The flight will return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. In 2019, SpaceX successfully conducted Demo-1, an uncrewed Crew Dragon test flight which demonstrated the spacecraft’s capability to operate autonomously. Demo-2 will be SpaceX’s final demonstration test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the mission will provide critical data on the spacecraft's performance and overall operations. If all goes well, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket will earn a human-rated certification that will enable them to launch humans frequently on operational missions. SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell stated:
“We have worked with NASA since 2006, and all that work is culminating in this historic event that we have up and coming in the next few weeks. My heart is up to here [throat] and I think it is going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the International Space Station.”
SpaceX released a cool video animation this year, showing what is planned for its first crewed mission -video below.
Demo-2, scheduled for Wednesday, May 27th at 4:32 p.m. Eastern Time. A Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida with astronauts aboard. The Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock to the space station at 11:29 a.m. Thursday, May 28th. The agency’s last manned launch from American soil took place in 2011. The agency has been booking Russian spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station. Astronaut Hurley stated:
"I'm just glad to be a part of this whole big program. I think, in general, it's well past time to be launching an American rocket from the Florida coast to the International Space Station and I am certainly honored to be a part of it. […] I think Bob and I are very humbled to be in this position."
“This is a very exciting time,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “The International Space Station is a critical capability for the United States of America; having access to it is also critical. We are moving forward very rapidly with this program that is so important to our nation and, in fact, to the entire world.”
In the midst of the global pandemic, preparations for Demo-2 continued with many precautions. NASA has strict guidelines in place to protect astronaut’s health and personnel. Most of the work-force has been working from home, with only mission-essential personnel working on-site. The agency even limited contact with Behnken and Hurley during training and preparations to avoid putting their health at risk before the vital mission. The Kennedy Space Center will remain closed to the public, and government officials are urging people to stay home due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. “The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” Bridenstine said at a news briefing on Friday. “We’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center… that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.” Bridenstine encouraged the public to watch the launch virtually.
“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,” Astronaut Hurley said. “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.”
NASA announced it will broadcast week-long pre-launch activities, starting on May 20th. The agency will live stream conferences until launch day via NASA TV and on its website.
NASA BROADCAST SCHEDULE
Wednesday, May 20
Time (Pending) - Crew arrival news conference at Kennedy, with the following participants:
Wednesday, May 20
Approximately 6 p.m. or one hour after Flight Readiness Review completion – Post-Flight Readiness Review briefing at Kennedy, with the following representatives:
Friday, May 22
Time (Pending) - Virtual Demo-2 Crew engagement at Kennedy, with the following participants
Monday, May 25
Time (Pending) or one hour after Launch Readiness Review completion – Prelaunch briefing at Kennedy, with the following representatives:
Tuesday, May. 26
10 a.m. - Administrator Countdown Clock Briefing
Wednesday, May. 27
12:15 p.m. – NASA TV launch coverage begins for the 4:32 p.m. liftoff
6 p.m. – Administrator postlaunch news conference at Kennedy, with the following representatives:
Thursday, May. 28
11:29 a.m. – Docking
NASA stated it will have continuous coverage from Falcon 9’s launch to Crew Dragon’s docking operations.