Featured Image Source: NASA
SpaceX developed Crew Dragon under a $2.6 billion contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The spacecraft can carry up to seven passengers and attaches above their Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX is preparing to conduct their first manned mission known as Demo-2, will consist of launching Dragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket from historic launch Pad 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with NASA Astronauts aboard towards a journey to the International Space Station (ISS). The Demo-2 mission could take place sometime between April and June this year; NASA officials are looking at May 7th as a potential target date.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first to fly aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft. They have been conducting all sorts of training exercises and flight preparations ranging from trying on spacesuits to preparing for potential emergencies. This week, Behnken and Hurley have been training for their next space mission that could include extravehicular activity (EVA), a spacewalk outside the orbiting laboratory.
NASA would like Astronaut Behnken to be capable of conducting a spacewalk if required, his last spacewalk was in February 2010 -that is almost a decade ago, so he needs to renew his training. Behnken has conducted six spacewalks over 2 shuttle missions. Astronaut Hurley, a pilot on previous shuttle missions, has never performed a spacewalk. NASA announced:
"The big day is on the way: We're launching astronauts to space from American soil once again. Astronauts Hurley & Behnken continued space station & spacewalk training this week for their upcoming flight on NASA's SpaceX DM-2 Commercial Crew mission."
To train for spacewalks, astronauts practice underwater inside a special swimming pool known as the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, or NBL, located near NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Floating in water is like floating in space, so practicing under water simulates zero-gravity-like environment. The pool holds 6.2 million gallons of water. Astronauts train for a total of 7 hours inside the pool for every 1 hour they will spend on an actual spacewalk mission outside the space station. NASA shared photographs today of Astronaut Hurley training for space station operations and Astronaut Behnken practicing inside the NBL swimming pool for a spacewalk, wearing their heavy spacesuits underwater.
The big day is on the way: We're launching astronauts to space from American soil once again. @Astro_Doug Hurley & @AstroBehnken continued @space_station & spacewalk training this week for their upcoming flight on NASA's @SpaceX DM-2 @Commercial_Crew mission. 🚀 #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/Yr3vBcxQgo— Johnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) February 22, 2020
Another way astronauts will practice for an upcoming spacewalk is by using virtual reality. Astronauts wear a helmet with a video screen inside and special gloves. A simulation video of how space and Earth look plays inside the helmet. The special gloves they wear are connected to the helmet's software, so when the astronaut moves their hands it moves along with the video.
While astronauts train for spacewalks, SpaceX engineers are preparing the Crew Dragon spacecraft ahead of its first crewed flight. The newly manufactured craft underwent several routine tests for the past couple of weeks, including electromagnetic interference testing, which is a vital process to make sure Dragon's electrical systems will work properly. Engineers also performed acoustic testing of Dragon, during this test the vehicle is exposed to high intensity noise and vibrations in an acoustic chamber to see if it withstands high noise and vibration levels -similar to those the craft will experience during lift-off atop a Falcon 9 rocket. High noise vibrations can cause hardware to malfunction, so, acoustic testing determines whether the crafts systems will remain functional during flight.
The upcoming SpaceX's Demo-2 mission aboard the Dragon spacecraft will be an important date in spaceflight history because besides it being Spacex's very first crewed flight, it will be the first manned rocket flight to liftoff from the United States in nearly a decade!