SpaceX and NASA are once again preparing for launch to send two veteran astronauts into space to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The launch, originally scheduled for May 27, was scrubbed due to weather conditions and is currently scheduled for Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 pm EDT.
In consultation with NASA officials, SpaceX will be sending astronauts Robert L. Behnken, 49, and Douglas G. Hurley, 53, to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket. Once aboard the ISS, they will join NASA astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy and stay for about 1 month before returning to earth.
Meet the Astronauts
Both Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley have backgrounds as military test pilots. While this is their first time flying a mission together, they are long time friends and have also flown on previous space shuttle missions. Both astronauts delivered portions of the ISS during these missions.
It seems especially fitting that astronaut Douglas G. Hurley will be aboard this historic flight as he was part of the crew that flew on the final space shuttle mission in 2011.
Private Industry Leading the Way Back to the Space Coast
It has been nearly a decade since NASA astronauts have launched from American soil. This historic flight not only marks the return of space flight to American soil, but it is also the first of hopefully many manned flights aboard a SpaceX rocket. The hope is the SpaceX rockets will prove to be reusable, making space flight significantly less expensive and more sustainable.
Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with a goal to build affordable spacecraft. In addition to making space travel more affordable, Musk has shared his goal of one day reaching Mars with manned space flights.
“It’s probably a dream of every test pilot school student to have the opportunity to fly on a brand-new spaceship, and I’m lucky enough to get that opportunity with my good friend here,” Behnken said at a press conference. This launch is only the fifth time American astronauts will launch aboard a brand new space vehicle. Previous vehicles included Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttles.
Why Did American Space Shuttle Missions End?
With the completion of the space station construction in 2011, the NASA space shuttles were officially retired. The decision was driven largely by the expense of maintaining the shuttles and operating the program as well as the loss of the Columbia shuttle. Funding was set to shift to Constellation, a program focused on returning to the moon. The Obama administration decided the program was too costly and canceled the program.
The shuttle program may have ended but American astronauts were still working aboard the International Space Station. With American shuttles no longer an option, NASA has been relying on Russia for transportation to the space station. Seats aboard these Soyuz spacecrafts flights cost tens of millions of dollars for each seat. Going forward, it is likely that we will continue to see American astronauts on Soyuz launches. Experts also expect to see Russian astronauts aboard future SpaceX and Boeing flights.
With effective public-private partnerships in place and the competition driven by explorers and entrepreneurs, we may be witnessing the beginning of a new era in space travel and exploration. A successful Demo-2 manned flight is the next step in making space travel more affordable and accessible. There is also hope new funds will rejuvenate space programs and inspire the next generation of future astronauts.
Join in as We #LaunchAmerica this Saturday
While Kennedy Space Center will remain closed to the public due to the pandemic, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has encouraged the public to witness the launch via live coverage on NASA TV. Countless news and media outlets will also be providing live coverage online, via mobile apps and on news apps on Firestick, Roku and other streaming devices.
Be sure to tune in early to watch as the astronauts board the Crew Dragon and prepare for launch.