Featured Image: (left to right) On October 2019 - NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine; SpaceX founder Elon Musk; and NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken / Source: Alex Gallardo via Associated Press.
On May 27, SpaceX will ignite a new era in American spaceflight, NASA astronauts will be launched from the United States for the first time in nearly a decade. It will be SpaceX’s first crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA Astronauts Robert ‘Bob’ Behnken and Doug Hurley have been training for years to conduct the mission, known as Demo-2. A Falcon 9 rocket will carry the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the orbiting laboratory. 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. 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. He stated today, April 23:
“We are asking people to join us in this launch, but to do so from home.”
The Kennedy Space Center will remain closed, only “mission-essential” personnel will attend the launch. The agency will live stream the mission on NASA TV and its website. “A lot of the folks on the line here know that when we launch to space from the Kennedy Space Center, it draws huge, huge crowds, and that is not right now what we’re trying to do,” Bridenstine said during the teleconference with reporters.
“We’re trying to make sure we have access to the International Space Station, without drawing the massive amount of crowds that we usually would.”
“NASA doesn’t have any plan right now to go beyond the Kennedy Space Center as it relates to our activities. That would be left largely to the state of Florida.” It’s expected that the State of Florida will set up highway patrols to control potential crowds during launch day. To ensure everyone abides by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and ‘stay-at-home’ orders issued by local government officials as a countermeasure to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Bridenstine: Demo-2 mission control will use different rooms "to separate people as much as possible" and NASA is looking at adding plexiglass between seats and stations.— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) April 23, 2020
To practice social-distancing, the agency planned different shift schedules so fewer employees work at different times to prepare the launch vehicles. “We’re looking at all the things where we can practice the guidelines for social distancing, and at the same time, launch this very important mission to the International Space Station,” he stated. Personnel is also required to wear personal protective equipment when working in groups. During the Demo-2 mission, NASA says it’s considering placing plexiglass in between desks of people who will work inside mission control near each other. And planning to separate support staff into separate rooms. Bridenstine said:
“When we launch to space, there’s a lot of people in the mission control facilities. We need to make sure that we are separating people as much as possible using different rooms.”
Astronaut Hurley shared his excitement and gratitude via Twitter this week:
"It’s official! Astronaut Behnken and I are going to space next month and are extremely grateful to the SpaceX and Commercial Crew teams continuing to do incredible work during extremely challenging circumstances. We are excited to help open the next era of human space flight."
It’s official! @AstroBehnken and I are going to space next month and are extremely grateful to the @SpaceX and @Commercial_Crew teams continuing to do incredible work during extremely challenging circumstances. We are excited to help open the next era of human space flight. https://t.co/7nVBqG2ZOD— Col. Doug Hurley (@Astro_Doug) April 21, 2020
The first rocket flight in almost a decade sure comes at a time when America needs inspiration. Even though the audience will not be allowed to be present to watch astronauts Behnken and Hurley liftoff from historic Launch Pad 39A, Bridenstine is encouraging the public to watch the live-stream from home, “We want them engaged,” he added. “We want them to participate. We want them to tell their friends and family. But we also want them to watch from a place that’s not the Kennedy Space Center.”