Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
This Wednesday, May 27th, thousands of people were glued to their screens waiting for two astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, to begin their journey to the International Space Station.
Unfortunately, the launch was cancelled 17 minutes before the planned liftoff due to the bad weather conditions. The next launch attempt will take place tomorrow, on Saturday, May 30th, at 3:22 PM EDT. The weather forecast* for the upcoming launch does not look good, so SpaceX might have to make use of the backup launch window on Sunday, May 31st at 3 PM EDT.
*See the forecast issued by the 45th Weather Squadron, a US Space Force Group that makes weather assessments for space launches from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, here.
“What’s all the fuss about?” you might ask. “After all, astronauts and cosmonauts go to the Space Station every six months or so. And most of the time the general public doesn’t bat an eye, leave alone watch the launch or hold a celebration.”
Well… this launch will be like no others. For the first time since 2011, American astronauts will go into space from the US soil on the US rocket. Moreover, for the first time in history the government agency will be buying a ride from a private corporation, opening an era of the commercial crew enterprise. Whether or not it is a good thing, we’ll see, but an important one to be sure.
So let’s dig into some details of the upcoming Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission.
How do astronauts get to the International Space Station?
After the Space Shuttle fleet retired in 2011, NASA had to rely solely on the Russian Soyuz to take the American crew to and from the International Space Station. There was a plan to build a new spacecraft and a carrier, but eventually the Agency decided to bring in commercial developers instead. In 2014 NASA awarded contracts to design and build ISS crew transportation to SpaceX and Boeing. And, if all goes well, tomorrow SpaceX Crew Dragon will become the first ever space taxi. Hopefully, Boeing’s Starliner will be ready to carry the crew to the ISS soon.
When and where from is the DEMO-2 second launch attempt?
The Demo-2 mission will attempt to take off tomorrow, on Saturday, May 30th, from the legendary complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Many historic missions, including Neil Armstrong’s journey to the Moon and NASA Space Station Skylab, began on that launch pad. Now LC-39A is on a 20 year lease (signed in 2014) to SpaceX. The pad is used exclusively for the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches.
Tomorrow the SpaceX Dragon crew spacecraft is scheduled to take off atop Falcon 9 rocket at 8:22 PM BST. This will be an instantaneous launch window. That means the mission will have to be launched at that specific time or scrubbed again.
Who will be flying the Crew Dragon Demo-2?
The honor and responsibility to fly the Crew Dragon test mission belong to two seasoned NASA astronauts, Robert (Bob) Behnken and Douglas (Doug) Hurley. Behnken flew two missions to the ISS aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2008 and 2010. Hurley’s also been to the ISS twice. In 2009 he piloted Space Shuttle Endeavour and in 2011 – Shuttle Atlantis. The latter was the last mission of the Shuttle program (interestingly, it was also launched from the Kennedy Space Centre’s pad 39A).
What’s the plan?
At some point during the flight the astronauts will take control of the vehicle to test the Dragon’s manual control capabilities. But most of the Saturday’s journey to the ISS and the docking with the station will be performed automatically. If you wonder what it’s like to fly and dock Crew Dragon, try the SpaceX’ new (and cool!) online docking simulator https://iss-sim.spacex.com/. Once at their destination, the two astronauts will join the Expedition 63 crew onboard the ISS. How long will they stay there is not yet clear.
Good luck and godspeed, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley!
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