Today, on Saturday, May 30th, NASA and SpaceX successfully launched the Crew Dragon to space with two astronauts for the first time. Far from just a demonstration, this launch signaled the restoration of domestic launch capability to US soil! From this day forward, NASA astronauts will no longer be dependent on foreign launch providers (like Roscosmos) to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).
After passing all of its preflight checks, ground controllers signaled that the mission (Demo-2) was a go at 03:22 p.m. EDT (12:22 p.m. PDT), saying “let’s light this candle!” A few seconds later, the Crew Dragon spacecraft and astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
The launch was originally meant to take place on Wednesday, May 27th, at 03:22 p.m. EDT (12:22 p.m. PDT). However, bad weather caused the launch to be scrubbed less than 15 minutes before engine ignition and NASA decided to try again during one of the mission’s backup launch windows – either today at 03:22 p.m. EDT (12:22 p.m. PDT) or tomorrow at 03:00 p.m. EDT (12:00 p.m. PDT).
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The event was the subject of live coverage by NASA Live and SpaceX, as well as live-updates via their respective Twitter feeds. About a minute into launch, both SpaceX and NASA tweeted success, the latter stating, “We have liftoff. History is made as @NASA_Astronauts launch from @NASAKennedy for the first time in nine years on the @SpaceX Crew Dragon.”
Four minutes into launch, NASA declared that the mission had achieved main engine cutoff (MECO) and separation from the first stage. From this point onward, the Falcon 9’s second stage continued to push the Crew Dragon into orbit while the first stage began the process of returning to the surface.
At 03:32 p.m. EDT (12:32 p.m. PDT), SpaceX live-tweeted that the second stage engine burn was complete and second engine cutoff (SECO) had occurred. One minute later, they announced that the first stage had been successfully recovered at sea after landing on the deck of the company’s drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.
Twelve minutes into the flight, NASA announced that the Crew Dragon spacecraft had separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage, which meant that spacecraft was in its desired orbit. The spacecraft’s nosecone then opened, depositing the Crew Dragon and its crew into space. At 04:09 p.m. EDT (01:09 p.m. PDT) the Crew Dragon conduct the first of several phase burns that will keep it on course for its 19-hour journey to the ISS.
The spacecraft will rendezvous with the ISS tomorrow (Sunday, May 31st) at 10:29 a.m. EDT (07:29 a.m. PDT). Once there, the spacecraft will autonomously dock with the station – though Behnken will assume control in the event that the autonomous systems are not working. Behnken and Hurley will then disembark and enter the station to complete the mission.
Until then, Behnken and Hurley have a few tasks ahead of them, and NASA and SpaceX do too! At 04:55 p.m. EDT (01:55 p.m. PDT), the astronauts will take control of Crew Dragon for the first of two manual flight tests designed to show that astronauts can take control in the event of a system’s failure. A broadcast and update on the progress of the mission from the Crew Dragon is expected at 05:55 p.m. EDT (02:55 p.m. PDT).
At 06:30 p.m. EDT (03:30 p.m. PDT), NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will host a postlaunch news conference from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Joining him will be NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders, a representative of SpaceX, ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman, and NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester.
Live-coverage by NASA Live and participating streaming services is still going and will continue until tonight’s news conference! Check out the continuing coverage below: