Those who’ve been following the hype shared by both NASA and SpaceX during the past couple of years would know that the two have been working extraordinarily closely to achieve something that hasn’t happened since the Space Shuttle era. That is, to end our dependence on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft and to launch astronauts into space from American soil once more.
Just this past week, NASA and SpaceX reached a substantial milestone in their partnership. The American space agency announced an official launch date for the first ever crewed commercial space launch U.S. history. On Wednesday, May 27th, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule will loft two American astronauts into outer space and then ferry them to the International Space Station.
Image Credit: NASA
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine shared the announcement via Twitter Friday afternoon, adding that Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley would be the lucky duo of astronauts taking part in setting this amazing precedent.
These astronauts be participating in the first-ever crewed demonstration mission on SpaceX’s behalf. In doing so, they will be demonstrating the safety and capabilities of the commercial space company’s Crew Dragon system from beginning to end and proving once and for all to NASA that the platform is viable for transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.
The launch is poised to take place at Florida’s Launch Complex 39A at approximately 4:32 P.M. Eastern time on the aforementioned date (Wednesday, May 27th). Within approximately 24 hours after launch, the spacecraft should autonomously dock with the International Space Station, allowing the two astronauts to join the recent arrivals including NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner of Expedition 63.
It remains to be seen how long the astronauts will remain at the International Space Station, however the Crew Dragon that will be used for this demonstration mission is purportedly capable of spending 110 days in outer space whereas the final product should last 210 days in outer space. When the mission ends, two astronauts will return home in the same Crew Dragon capsule used to send astronauts to the International Space Station; hence beginning to end.
Originally, NASA didn’t plan for SpaceX’s first crewed mission to dock with the International Space Station, but rather for it to visit outer space and then return home. The change of plan appears to be exacerbated by time constraints and the demand for access to American launches sooner rather than later.
NASA’s other Commercial Crew contractor, Boeing, may not see its first crewed spaceflight until sometime next year. If everything goes according to plan, then the United States will see a new era of independence in terms of spaceflight.