This launch to the ISS will mark the first time astronauts are able to test the Crew Dragon capsule in space and could change the future of commercial space exploration.
Properly hurling human beings into space at 17,000 miles per hour with a mere glamorized tin can between them and the vacuum of space is always an impressive feat. However, Wednesday’s planned NASA and SpaceX launch represented a major milestone for the future of space exploration. Unfortunately, mere minutes before the scheduled launch, the mission was aborted due to weather conditions. Now, the scheduled launch has been postponed until Saturday, May 30.
Once the countdown sequence resumes, NASA and SpaceX will launch a pair of astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) marking the first manned American launch from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. A successful launch and rendezvous with the ISS would represent the dawn of a new era in commercial space exploration. The mission, formally known as the Demo-2 mission, will serve as the final test of SpaceX’s crewed transportation system. This system also includes the operational capabilities, the physical launch pad, the rocket, and, of course, the spacecraft itself.
SEE: NASA hackathon leverages global ingenuity to combat the coronavirus pandemic (TechRepublic)
A triumphant return years in the making
Since the end of the Space Shuttle program nearly a decade ago, the US has remained reliant on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry NASA astronauts to the ISS. This may all change in the days ahead.
Originally, the mission was scheduled to launch on Wednesday, May 27 at approximately 4:33 EDT. Now the teams must wait a few more days for the voyage to the ISS. When that time comes, a pair of NASA astronauts, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, will lift off aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule powered by a specialized Falcon 9 rocket en route to the ISS.
Both pilots have plenty of spacefaring experience. Behnken, the mission joint operations commander, touts two previous space shuttle flights and a series of spacewalks. Hurley, the commander for the mission, has two previous space flights including the final space shuttle flight in 2011.
In orbit, the crew will then begin to test the control system, thrusters, and other instrumentation to make sure the craft is performing as planned. Within approximately 24 hours of the launch, the capsule will be ready to rendezvous with the ISS. The Crew Dragon is engineered to dock autonomously, however, the crew will be keeping a close eye on the system during the process.
While the astronauts’ Storm Trooper-esque space suits have been garnering plenty of attention in recent days, there are other interesting modern upgrades inside the capsule. In the past, internal control systems have incorporated a wide array of knobs and levers for operational tasks. However, this time around the celestial block, the astronauts are able to control the capsule via an onboard touchscreen panel, a spacefaring first.
A launch with a nod toward history
The spacecraft will eventually launch from the historic Launch Complex 39A. This launch site was originally constructed to accommodate the enormous Saturn V rockets that would eventually propel astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo missions. SpaceX signed a 20-year agreement with the space agency in 2014 for the use of Launch Complex 39A.
This article was updated to reflect the launch postponement.