A SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft sits on launch pad 39A prior to the uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, March 1, 2019. [Photo: VCG]
NASA announced on Friday to launch its first SpaceX crewed flight to the International Space Station (ISS) on May 27.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will fly on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, which will lift off on a Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 p.m. EDT May 27, from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
It will be the first time since 2011 that NASA astronauts launch on an American-made rocket from American soil, said NASA.
It will also be the first crewed mission for SpaceX since its founding 18 years ago.
upcoming Crew Dragon mission, dubbed Demo-2, will be the final test for SpaceX, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts test the spacecraft systems in orbit, according to NASA.
The mission duration will be determined once on station based on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch, although the Crew Dragon being used for this flight test can stay in orbit about 110 days, said NASA.
Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX's next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle, according to NASA.
Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking, and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the ISS.
Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as launch, landing, and recovery.
Lifting off atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate the two astronauts to about 27,200 kilometers per hour, and put it on an intercept course with the ISS.
"Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays, and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things," said NASA in a release.
In about 24 hours, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the ISS, according to NASA.
The spacecraft is designed to do this autonomously, but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be monitoring approach and docking, and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary, according to NASA.
After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.
After concluding the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.
Upon splashdown just off Florida's Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX's Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral, according to NASA.
The ISS has continually hosted a rotating crew of astronauts from all over the world since 2000. Russia has been the only country capable of transporting astronauts to and from the ISS since 2011.
The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA's Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station.
This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which will lay the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency's Artemis program.
Artemis is NASA's program to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024, preparing the way for human missions to Mars.