SpaceX crewed mission is a 'go' for launch next week

Tanya Simon
May 24, 2020

The White House on Saturday also confirmed the president would attend the May 27 launch in Florida of two astronauts on a SpaceX mission - the first crewed space flight from U.S. soil in nine years. Perhaps the most important objective to be met is achieving NASA human rating certification of SpaceX's human spaceflight system.

The space shuttle programme was retired four decades after it began service, a prime reason was the high cost of maintenance.

Trump has always been a supporter of private space flight, declaring in 2018 that Elon Musk's company shows "American ingenuity at its best".

Leaders from SpaceX and NASA such a NASA's Commerical Crew Program Manager, Kathy Lueders; International Space Station Program manager Kirk Shireman; SpaceX's director of Crew Mission Management, Benji Reed in conjunction with Russian and Japanese representatives from the International Space Station partnership came together to discuss the findings of previous, specialized reviews, close out any remaining action items, and give the official nod of approval for SpaceX to send astronauts to orbit for the first time. He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights.

Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station.

Behnken and Hurley have been in quarantine for more than a week, a normal procedure for astronauts going to space.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken ahead of leaving for Kennedy Space Centre
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken ahead of leaving for Kennedy Space Centre

Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing, and recovery. The New York native was born in Endicott but considers Apalachin his hometown. Before joining NASA, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. Asked whether he'd be attending next week's launch, Trump quipped to a reporter that he'd "like to put you in the rocket and get rid of you for a while". The trip will take about 24 hours. The spacecraft is created to do this autonomously but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley, assigned to fly on the first test flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, pose inside a mockup of the spacecraft.

The Crew Dragon capsule the rocket is propelling will dock at the station before being used in several months to carry the astronauts back to Earth. The operational Crew Dragon spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days as a NASA requirement. The space agency is working to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 under orders from the White House, but that deadline appears increasingly unlikely even as three newly chosen commercial teams rush to develop lunar landers.

Upon conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. And in December, an uncrewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner space taxi went awry, guaranteeing that SpaceX would be the first to fly a crew.

If all of those things line up, NASA will be able to sign off on the Crew Dragon and begin using it for missions to the ISS whenever it pleases.

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