Launch Day! NASA and SpaceX Prepare for Maiden Crewed Flight

It's launch day for the NASA SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley conduct a dress rehearsal of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission | Image creidt: SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX are proceeding with the final preparations for the launch of maiden crewed Dragon flight.

The maiden crewed launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is expected to be launched at 20:33 UTC later today. The spacecraft will be launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. Once in orbit, the pair will begin a 19-hour pursuit of the International Space Station.

The NASA SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the culmination of a decade of work. The agency launched the Commercial Crew Development program in 2010. It was created to shift the burden of building out launch services to commercial partners. The agency would then simply purchase seats aboard commercial spacecraft. The concept promised to potnetial save the American taxpayer billions of dollars.

In September 2014 following several rounds of development, NASA awarded launch services contracts to SpaceX and Boeing.

The first flight of the Commercial Crew Program was expected to liftoff in 2015. However, development delays and lackluster funding caused the maiden flight of the program to slip several years.

On March 2, 2019, NASA and SpaceX launched the Demo-1 mission. The launch was an uncrewed demonstration mission of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Following a short stay aboard the International Space Station, the spacecraft returned safely back to Earth.

SpaceX conduct the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test on January 19, 2020.
The launch of the NASA SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission on March 2, 2019 | Image credit: SpaceX

With the successful completion of an uncrewed test flight, the road was clear for the first crewed mission of the Commercial Crew program. However, an anomaly during a static fire test of the Crew Dragon vehicle recovered from the Demo-1 mission caused an explosion that resulted in the destruction of the vehicle.

The incident set the program back several months and required a redesign of some of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft’s systems.

To the surprise of many, the investigation into the incident and the redesign of the Crew Dragon spacecraft was completed within just months. With the addition of the successful completion of an inflight abort test on January 19, 2020, and the final certification of the spacecraft’s parachutes, the Crew Dragon was cleared for its maiden crewed mission.

The NASA SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission is launched on March 2, 2019.
SpaceX conduct an in-flight abort test to certify the Crew Dragon spacecraft for the NASA commercial crew program | Image credit: SpaceX

The Demo-2 mission will be a thorough shakedown of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. In concert with ground controllers, Behnken and Hurley will put the spacecraft through its paces during its pursuit of the ISS. Once docked to the station, the crew will continue to conduct testing evaluating how the spacecraft holds up to the rigors of space. Following a currently undefined period, Behnken and Hurley will climb back into the spacecraft and return to Earth.

With the successful completion of the Demo-2 mission, the Crew Dragon will be certified for operational flight. NASA has already scheduled the first operational flight for August 30, 2020. The mission will carry a crew of four and will remain in orbit for as many as 210 days.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.