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SpaceX is getting ready to launch their first crewed mission aboard the updated Crew Dragon spacecraft. The first crewed mission will launch NASA Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX will ignite a new era where astronauts launch from American Soil. NASA has not executed manned flights to space ever since the shuttle was grounded in 2011, the agency has been booking Russian spacecraft to launch astronauts for nearly a decade. Last year, the Crew Dragon spacecraft was successfully tested during Demo-1, its first uncrewed mission to the space station, SpaceX demonstrated their technology is reliable to fly astronauts. That day, Dragon docked autonomously to the station -no other spacecraft in history has achieved that level of autonomy.
According to Ars Technica's Eric Berger, he reports that first crewed flight, Demo-2, could occur this year on May 7th. Though, the date is not set in stone yet, but it gives an idea of when they expect to be ready to conduct the second Crew Dragon flight to the ISS. The Government Accountability Office released a report detailing progress on NASA Commercial Crew Program where it states that the Crew Dragon spacecraft was ready to ferry astronauts to the station “3 months earlier” than what was anticipated. NASA and SpaceX have not announced how long the first manned flight aboard Dragon to the orbiting laboratory will be.
Working date for SpaceX's Demo-2 launch is May 7. Dragon is in good shape.— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) February 10, 2020
Launch date is fluid and mission may move into late April, or push later into May depending on a number of variables not hardware related. No final decision yet on duration.
Last month, SpaceX conducted the final major safety test on their Dragon spacecraft called In-Flight Abort (IFA) test. IFA tested the craft's launch escape system capabilities that will be used in case of a rocket malfunction mid-flight. During the test, SpaceX engineers mimicked a real flight to space except that they purposely caused their Falcon 9 rocket to "malfunction" by shutting down its engines in order to trigger Dragon's launch escape countdown. Falcon 9 aerodynamically exploded mid-air, as Dragon successfully ignited its SuperDraco engines to escape the danger. Dragon successfully escaped danger, conducted a parachute-assisted landing in the Atlantic ocean off Florida's coast. This was a huge milestone to receive NASA approval and to earn a human rating spacecraft certification, before launching astronauts aboard. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last month after the successful IFA test that they have not decided if the first manned flight to the space station would be a short or long duration flight - that is still in debate, he said, "We would launch DM-2 as a short duration test flight and then we would have an operational flight test later with our two astronauts here. They would do a long-term, long duration flight. So that's one solution, and that's where things stand as of right now but we could make that first crew (flight) a longer duration crew for the purpose of getting the maximum amount of capability out of the International Space Station."
Astronauts Hurley and Behnken have been training for the Demo-2 mission to the space station for years, they both are veteran astronauts have been working for the agency for over a decade. SpaceX recently shared a cool video animation of what would happen during their first crewed mission. In it we could see the two astronauts arriving in a Tesla Model X electric vehicle to historic Launch Pad 39A at Florida's NASA Kennedy Space Center, where the Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from carrying Dragon at top, to take them to the space station.
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It will be amazing to see the public excited again for crewed rocket flights launched from American soil!