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SpaceX and NASA are getting prepared to conduct the first crewed rocket flight launched from American soil in nearly a decade, as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program (CCP) contract. The Demo-2 mission will launch NASA astronauts Robert 'Bob' Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. A Falcon 9 rocket will liftoff Dragon to space sometime in mid-to-late May. It is unclear if the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic that is rapidly spreading globally, could delay the launch in the near future. NASA announced early March, its taking drastic measures to keep the astronauts and personnel healthy and ready for the mission. Most employees from the agency's different facilities are working from home. Astronaut Behnken shared with reporters that he is living in a 'quarantine bubble' to avoid contracting COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus strain. "We're kind of already in a quarantine bubble that includes the two of us and of course, by extension, our immediate families as well," he said. NASA is limiting their contact with astronauts and only allowing "mission-essential" personnel to interact with them. "We just have to be smart about what we do and how we do it and follow the protocols that our flight surgeons and medical community have set forth. We are going to do the right thing as best we can," Astronaut Hurley said, "We're going to try to continue to train as best we can. We're going to do the right things and hopefully arrive at the launch pad healthy when we actually do launch."
Today, NASA announced, Astronauts completed a series of SpaceX simulations meant to prepare them for the first flight aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Michael Hess, manager of Operations Integration for CCP stated:
"The simulations were a great opportunity to practice procedures and to coordinate decision-making for the mission management team, especially with respect to weather. Simulation supervisors do a great job at picking cases that really make the team think and discuss."
The training took place on March 19 and 20, Behnken and Hurley trained inside a SpaceX simulator. They executed a full simulation of launch and docking operations inside Firing Room 4 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and SpaceX's Mission Control in Hawthorne, California headquarters. The training was in coordination with NASA flight controllers, who simulated launch day operations from the Mission Control station located in Houston, Texas. The entire training session was a full launch and docking operations of Dragon. NASA representatives announced today, March 31:
"Joint teams from NASA and SpaceX continue making progress on the first flight test with astronauts to the International Space Station by completing a series of mission simulations from launch to landing. The mission, known as Demo-2, is a close mirror of the company’s uncrewed flight test to station in March 2019, but this time with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program."
Dragon's first demonstration mission, Demo-1, was an uncrewed flight to the space station that showcased the craft's ability to autonomously operate, it became the first spacecraft in history to dock autonomously to the orbiting laboratory's module. The first crewed flight, Dragon's Demo-2 mission, will replicate the same journey. "What’s happening in commercial crew is a big deal," Hess said. "It will be the first time to launch astronauts from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, and it will be the first time since STS-1 [Space Shuttle's first mission] that we will launch astronauts in a new spacecraft. This new spacecraft, Crew Dragon, was designed and built by SpaceX, not by NASA and traditional contractor partnerships -another first. Bob and Doug will definitely be earning their spacecraft test pilot wings with this mission. Also, the Space Station Program is really looking forward to another way to rotate crews to station to perform science and experiments to benefit all."
"Mores simulations, final crew training and flight readiness reviews" will take place in the weeks ahead, "to ensure all of the mission systems and subsystems are ready for a crewed test flight," Hess added.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.