On Wednesday, May 27th, NASA and SpaceX geared up for what was sure to be a historic event! After years of hard work, the Crew Dragon capsule developed through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program would dock with the ISS for the first time. This launch would effectively restore domestic-launch capability to the United States, something it lost in 2011 with the retiring of the Space Shuttle. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t get the memo!
Less than 15 minutes before the Crew Dragon was to launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, mission controllers scrubbed the flight because the weather was not clearing up. As a result, NASA and SpaceX pushed the launch of the Crew Dragon to their two backup launch opportunities, both of which will be happening this weekend.
Once again, NASA and SpaceX will provide live coverage of the launch, which will be taking place at 3:22 p.m. EDT (12:22 p.m. PDT). NASA coverage will begin at 11:00 a.m. EDT (08:00 a.m. PDT) on NASA Live and various other platforms (NASA’s social media pages and participating streaming services). Prelaunch coverage will once again include “The Star-Spangled Banner” sung by Kelly Clarkson.
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The mission, designated Demo-2, is the second demonstration flight of the Crew Dragon and the last step in the NASA CCP certification process for long-duration missions to the ISS. The first flight, Demo-1, took place on March 2nd, 2019, was an uncrewed test that saw an American spacecraft dock with the ISS autonomously for the first time, then return safely to Earth (six days later).
This time around, two astronauts will fly aboard the Crew Dragon (Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley) as it docks with the ISS and demonstrates all of its flight systems. Behnken will be the joint operations commander of this mission and overseeing docking, undocking, and activities aboard the ISS, while Hurley will serve as the spacecraft commander – responsible for activities such as launch, landing, and recovery.
Once in orbit, the Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Sunday, May 31st, at 10:29 a.m. EDT (07:29 a.m. PDT). Once the mission is complete, the spacecraft will splashdown in the Atlantic just off the coast of Florida where they will be retrieved by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and returned to Cape Canaveral.
In addition to validating the Crew Dragon for crewed spaceflight, this mission will also validate the Falcon 9 rocket’s ability to deliver crews to space. Finally, it will as provide critical data on the ground systems and in-orbit, docking, and landing operations NASA and SpaceX have created for the Crew Dragon.
Currently, SpaceX is preparing the hardware for the first mission to rotate the crew of the ISS, which will happen after all the data from this test flight is reviewed for certification. In the event that another weather-delay happens, SpaceX has a backup launch window on Sunday, May 31st, at 03:00 p.m. EDT (12:00 p.m. PDT; 19:00 UTC).
If all goes well, this mission will see the restoration of domestic launch capability for the US. Since 2011, NASA has been reliant on Roscosmos to send its astronauts to space and the ISS. But between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, and the Space Launch System (SLS) getting its “Green Gun,” NASA will be going to space on its own in the coming years – and going hard!
Further Reading: NASA