Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX will ignite a new era in American spaceflight. On May 27th, NASA astronauts will be launched to the International Space Station (ISS), from the United States for the first time in nearly a decade. NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley have been training for years to conduct the mission, known as Demo-2. A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to liftoff at 4:32 p.m. EDT. from historic Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the orbit. The agency funded SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft development under a Commercial Crew Program contract to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States. Since 2011, American astronauts have launched to ISS aboard Russian spacecraft. SpaceX is already conducting final preparations at Cape Canaveral to conduct the historic mission. “Crew Dragon at the Cape undergoing final preparations ahead of the first flight to the Space Station with NASA astronauts onboard,” the aerospace company announced, alongside a photograph of the spacecraft that Behnken and Hurley will ride next month, pictured below.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a press conference, the agency will not allow the public to watch the historic crewed launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that causes COVID-19 [C19], a respiratory illness. Many cities across the United States are under “stay-at-home” orders as a countermeasure to reduce the chances of spreading COVID-19. This caused many businesses to shut down and only essential services and workers have been able to show up to work for the past month.
Today, May 1st, Bridenstine released a written statement explaining why the mission is an essential operation for the United States, amid the virus situation. “Have no doubt about it: I am looking forward to the launch. It will be historic and momentous. It also is critically important.” He stated:
“As the workforce personnel essential to supporting this launch and the Demo-2 mission and the International Space Station operations continue to work. I want to assure you we are taking the necessary steps to protect and care for the NASA and SpaceX teams. NASA is closely adhering to the CDC’s recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus.”
NASA’s ultimate goal is to take humans back to the moon and build a base, as a stepping stone to then explore the Red Planet. Initiating manned rocket flights to the orbiting laboratory launched from American soil, paves the way towards more complex space exploration missions. “This unique laboratory in space has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from scientists spanning 108 countries and areas, enabling us to prepare to land the first woman and next man on the Moon under the Artemis program and prepare for the human exploration of Mars,” Bridenstine wrote. “…The station’s design requires humans living aboard to maintain it, operate it, and upgrade it; thus, International Space Station operations, including commercial resupply and commercial crew, are essential to the mission. A full crew is vital to safely maintain the station, both internally and externally, and continue the important research work that enables us to move human exploration farther into our solar system.”
Bridenstine stated it is important to perform the Demo-2 mission because there is only one United States astronaut at the International Space Station at the moment.
“We currently are supporting the station with the bare minimum – only one NASA astronaut is aboard for Expedition 63, Chris Cassidy. As a result, we have extended the planned length of the Demo-2 mission from a standard test flight to ensure Behnken and Hurley can participate as Expedition 63 crew members to safely maintain and operate the station.”
The agency is limiting contact with Astronaut Behnken and Hurley to only "mission-essential" staff. They will be quarantined for two weeks before the vital Demo-2 mission to ensure they are both in good health ahead of flight.
NASA will live-stream the historic launch on May 27th via its website and NASA TV. “We of course wish circumstances would allow us to open the gates at Kennedy Space Center to those who want to be there on launch day – nevertheless, we are working to enable the world to join us virtually for this incredible moment and essential mission,” he said.