US Space Council Meets Ahead of Private, US Manned Launch

Eloise Marshall
May 22, 2020

In a little over a week, SpaceX will attempt to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida - the first human launch from the United States in almost a decade.

SpaceX is configured to send two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on May 27.

USA astronauts have been flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on Russian Soyuz rockets since the shuttle program ended in 2011 - a dependence they are keen to break.

The pair will lift-off in a SpaceX crew dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Further, the Earth image will be printed and flown on the Crew Dragon capsule along with the NASA's Bob and Hurley who were selected to go on the spacecraft on the Demo-2 mission. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will launch NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley into space in the final test flight of the system before SpaceX is certified to carry out operational crew flights to and from the International Space Station for the US space agency. It will be SpaceX's first human space flight.

Looking at most recent flights for each, Doug Hurley most-recently flew as the Pilot on the Grand Finale flight of Atlantis, STS-135, while Bob Behnken's most recent mission was on STS-130, which saw Shuttle Endeavor loft the Tranquility Module and Cupola, giving astronauts the now wildly famous 360° view from Low Earth Orbit.

It has been less than a year since Loverro became NASA's head of human spaceflight programmes.

He said he and Behnken drew upon their test pilot experiences with "tagging", and slapped a sticker for their DM-2 mission on their Crew Dragon spacecraft simulator in Houston at the end of their final proficiency training session on Tuesday. At T-minus 2 hours and 15 minutes, Behnken and Hurley will enter the Crew Dragon spacecraft using the brand-new crew access arm, a hallway-like bridge that SpaceX added to NASA's historic launchpad 39A in preparation for the flight.

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SpaceX also said it would be delaying the next launch of its next Starlink satellites, which aims to boost global internet connectivity, to focus on Demo-2 during a period of adverse weather. Investments made, and innovation brought forward, have drawn SpaceX to within a rock's throw of restarting the clock on American crew flying from American soil, with an anticipated delta of 8 years, 11 months, 22 days and approximately 17 hours.

The flight test will serve as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX's crew transportation system. The longest previous hiatus between astronaut launches stretched six years - from Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 to the shuttle's debut in 1981 with Crippen and John Young.

Crippen also wants the shuttle replacement to look more futuristic and land on an airstrip.

The capsule has the familiar cone shape, but inside touchscreens replace the customary, countless switches. The walls are glossy white, not tiresome gray. There's even a curtained-off toilet.

It has built-in exhaust engines created to launch the rocket pod in an emergency, from the moment Hurley and Behnken engage until they reach orbit.

"This crew will have a good escape system", Crippen said. "John and I had our ejection seats, but they wouldn't have done much for us at takeoff", sending them straight through the rocket fire trail. In terms of launch power, the relatively small Falcon 9 has much less than the space shuttle, another layer of security.

But it's still just the second flight of the crew capsule, and "the statistics will tell you that's riskier than the 15th flight or 20th flight of the vehicle", said Hurley, a former fighter pilot.

"I don't think I need to remind my employees how important this is", Shotwell, the company president, said.

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