What to Know Before the Historic Launch of SpaceX's Crew Dragon

James Marshall
August 4, 2020

Liftoff scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT (3:33 p.m. CDT).

American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will today reattempt to launch from the Kennedy Space Centre onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket-the first manned U.S. launch in nine years.

SpaceX remains on track for an inaugural NASA astronaut launch that will arguably be the most important single mission in the company's history, although Florida's summer weather continues to conspire to delay it. If that situation were to arise, backup slots of May 30 and May 31 have been set free.

This will be the first-ever crewed spaceflight for SpaceX, and it will also make history as the first USA -based human rocket launch since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. SpaceX is the first from this program to make a crewed launch attempt.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket this evening for a stay on the space station for the Demo-2 mission.

It's unclear at the moment how long they'll spend on the orbiting outpost before coming home, but it's likely to be just short of four months.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has already begun plans to also offer berths on Crew Dragon to private citizens and potentially commercial scientists and other passengers.

On Wednesday, an American-built rocket will blast American astronauts from American soil for the first time in almost a decade.

"Safety for our crew members [Douglas Hurley and Bob Behnken] is our top priority", said NASA Administratory Jim Bridenstine.

Success for SpaceX will not only put American astronauts back in American saddles but crack open new possibilities for cheaper space flight that might not seem obvious now. In 2015, he was selected as one of the first Commercial Crew astronauts.

However, NASA has made a special effort to limit the number of people allowed to come into contact with them.

In April 2019, one of the capsules exploded during testing, with SpaceX's vice president Hans Koenigsmann later stating that the accident was due to an oxidizer leak. Also becoming an astronaut in 2000, Behnken visited the ISS twice on two different space shuttle missions in 2008 and 2010, both aboard Endeavour.

Terry Virts, a former test pilot-turned-astronaut who also joined NASA in 2000, says of Hurley: "He's just solid".

The International Space Station, pictured in 2011 with the space shuttle Endeavour attached.

During the Crew Dragon mission, Hurley will handle the launch, landing and recovery, while Behnken will be responsible for rendezvousing with the ISS, as well as overseeing autonomously docking and undocking procedures with the space station.

The Crew Dragon is noticeably more sleek than any of the more functional-looking crewed vehicles used by Russian Federation or NASA.

"About 10 years ago, this place was devastated", he said.

Mission Control thanked the two astronauts, who spent over two hours sitting in the capsule in their suits ahead of the launch time, for their "resilience".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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