Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch Dragon Demo-2 next Wednesday, a mission that will send NASA astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.
American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and fly to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. The last such launch came in July 2011 and became the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Crew Dragon Demo-2 will also be the first two-person orbital spaceflight launched from the U.S. since STS-4 in 1982.
“It’s just been an incredible journey to get us this far, and in some ways it’s really hard to believe we’re gonna launch next week, but it’s incredibly exciting,” Hurley said on Tuesday during a meeting of the National Space Council, a policy-steering body led by Chairman and Vice President Mike Pence.
“It’s a real honor to just be a part of this program and to launch American rockets from Florida one more time,” said Hurley, 53, who was on board that last space shuttle flight.
Hurley, the mission commander, and Behnken will conduct experiments on board the ISS, where they are scheduled to stay for one to four months, until the next Crew Dragon launch. They will then return to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.
The first stage booster on the launch will also attempt to land autonomously in the Atlantic Ocean on a SpaceX floating barge called “Of Course I Still Love You.”
NASA and SpaceX are targeting May 27 for the launch of Demo-2, the first launch of NASA astronauts from the U.S. since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.pic.twitter.com/0ASWz0h0LK
— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) April 17, 2020
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Dragon Demo-2 is a priority for the agency.
“We need access to the International Space Station from the United States of America. Commercial Crew is the program that’s going to make that happen. It’s essential for our country to have that capability,” Bridenstine told CNBC.
SpaceX has a $2.6 billion contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to conduct six such flights, and also flies robotic resupply missions with the cargo version of Dragon, first sent to the ISS in 2012.
The flight comes amid some turmoil in NASA. On Tuesday, the agency announced that Doug Loverro had resigned as associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Loverro’s former deputy, former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox, has taken over the job as acting associate administrator.
“Next week will mark the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight with the launch of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station,” NASA officials wrote in a statement about Loverro’s departure. “This test flight will be a historic and momentous occasion that will see the return of human spaceflight to our country, and the incredible dedication by the men and women of NASA is what has made this mission possible.”
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