SpaceX is ready to launch its first crewed mission aboard the updated Crew Dragon spacecraft. The Demo-2 mission will launch NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under a contract with the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Veteran NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will be the first to fly aboard the craft on May 27, a Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to liftoff at 4:32 p.m. EDT. from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA has not executed manned flights to space since 2011. The Demo-2 mission will be the final major demonstration flight before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon to conduct operational missions to the space station. SpaceX will return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States of America. “The launch of the crew is something that we’ve been working towards for 17 years. This is the reason SpaceX was created, we’re incredibly honored to partner with NASA and to make this happen,” the founder of SpaceX Elon Musk told reporters earlier this year.
SpaceX has developed some of the most advanced rockets and spacecraft in the world. The company’s Falcon 9 rocket is capable of launching a payload into orbit and returning from space to land flawlessly on autonomous drone ships at sea, to be reused on future flights. No other aerospace company has achieved SpaceX’s level of reusability. The Crew Dragon spacecraft features autonomous capabilities that enable it to dock itself to the orbiting laboratory, the feature was tested last year during the uncrewed Demo-1 mission. It became the first American spacecraft to dock autonomously to the orbiting laboratory. The spacecraft also features one of the world’s safest parachute systems, that will be used when astronauts return from the space. Upon mission completion, Dragon will enter our atmosphere with astronauts Behnken and Hurley aboard, it will deploy its parachutes to conduct a soft landing in the ocean. “Dragon will provide astronauts returning from space with a safe landing back home on Earth,” SpaceX said. Parachutes can also be deployed in the unlikely event of an emergency.
SpaceX conducted nearly 100 Crew Dragon parachute tests to meet safety standards. SpaceX uses a spacecraft-like mock-up of the spacecraft, which features a Mark 3 parachute system, to conduct drop tests from cargo aircraft and helicopters. “SpaceX has completed nearly 100 tests and flights of its Dragon parachute systems for cargo missions and in development of the upgraded Mark 3 design—one of the safest, most reliable parachute systems in the world for human spaceflight,” the company wrote via Twitter. “Much harder problem than it may seem,” Musk remarked.
The company also demonstrated the spacecraft’s safety system during a launch escape mission in January. The ‘In-Flight Abort’ test demonstrated how Dragon can escape danger and rescue astronauts in the event of an emergency, like a rocket malfunction mid-flight. During the test, Falcon 9’s engines were intentionally shutdown to trigger Crew Dragon’s launch escape capabilities, the craft ignited its SuperDraco engines to fly away from danger as the Falcon 9 exploded mid-air. Dragon then conducted a parachute-assisted landing in the ocean. That day, SpaceX demonstrated the spacecraft’s capability to save lives (video below).
Yesterday, May 21, SpaceX crews raised the Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket, vertical at Launch Complex 39A. Soon, teams will conduct a static-fire test, in which the rocket will roar to life for a few seconds to ensure it is working well ahead of the historic flight.
Astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center to review final launch day operations, Behnken stated –
“Both Doug and I are really excited…this is an awesome time to be an astronaut with a new spacecraft to get a chance to go and fly. We view it as an opportunity, but also a responsibility for the American people, for the SpaceX team, for all of NASA that put this opportunity together and then trusted us with it.”