The day has arrived. If the weather is good (there is a 50% probability that this is not the case), this Wednesday Saturday SpaceX will make history by launching for the first time a manned mission for NASA. It will be the first commercial flight to the International Space Station and the final test for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Update (5/30): The first attempt to launch the Crew Dragon DM-2 was aborted on Wednesday due to bad weather. We have updated this article with the new schedules, but the forecast for Saturday is still not ideal.
The mission has a patriotic character for the United States because it marks the first manned launch on American soil since the last space shuttle flight in 2011. Two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be aboard the Crew Dragon. The spacecraft is fully autonomous and can be docked alone to the International Space Station, but Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to perform manual flight maneuvers for testing purposes. You can test the interface of the Crew Dragon in the official SpaceX simulator.
Six years have passed since SpaceX began developing its capsule as part of the Commercial Crew program that NASA has funded to stop relying on the Russian aerospace industry. The space agency paid SpaceX $ 3.14 billion to develop and test the Crew Dragon, and Boeing $ 4.8 billion to develop and test the CST-100 Starliner. Both companies experienced numerous delays and setbacks, but SpaceX overtook Boeing and was the only one to complete an unmanned mission to the International Space Station, which will be repeated this Wednesday with astronauts.
The launch will take place on platform 39A of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where the Apollo missions to the Moon also departed. Behnken and Hurley will arrive on the platform in a white Tesla Model X adorned with the NASA logo. Notably, SpaceX founder, CEO and chief technical officer, Elon Musk, is also the CEO of Tesla.
Clad in modern SpaceX spacesuits, Behnken and Hurley will take the Crew Dragon access arm by elevator, enter the ship and close the hatch. Half an hour before launch, SpaceX will fill the Falcon 9 with fuel: it will do so with astronauts on board, despite the risk, because it uses cryogenic propellants to increase the performance of the rocket. The ship has its own engines to get away from the rocket in case of an emergency.
The Falcon 9 is scheduled to take off at 3:22 PM EST on Saturday, May 30. If any inconvenience arises, SpaceX will be forced to delay the launch to Sunday, May 31. 12 minutes after takeoff, the Crew Dragon will separate from Falcon 9 and spend the next 19 hours in orbit (luckily there is a toilet on the ship). When the spacecraft is aligned with the International Space Station, Hurley will do a manual approach and let the autonomous system take care of anchoring the capsule to the docking port. Docking is scheduled for 10:29 EST Sunday.
It is not decided when they will return to Earth. Initially, Behnken and Hurley were to be onboard the International Space Station for a few days, but after the Commercial Crew delays, NASA decided to extend the stay to weeks, or probably months. When it’s time, Behnken and Hurley will board the Crew Dragon again, move away from the International Space Station and re-enter the atmosphere. Four parachutes will cushion the fall. The ship will gently land in the Atlantic Ocean.
Where to follow it
Saturday, May 30:
- 11:00 (Cape Canaveral) / 10:00 (Mexico City) / 17:00 (Madrid): Launch coverage begins on NASA TV.
- 3:22 p.m. (Cape Canaveral) / 2:22 p.m. (Mexico City) / 9:22 p.m. (Madrid): Falcon 9 takeoff.
- 16:09 (Cape Canaveral) / 15:09 (Mexico City) / 22:09 (Madrid): lighting of the Crew Dragon.
- 16:55 (Cape Canaveral) / 15:55 (Mexico City) / 22:55 (Madrid): first manual flight of the Crew Dragon.
- 17:55 (Cape Canaveral) / 16:55 (Mexico City) / 23:55 (Madrid): direct connection with the crew in orbit.
- 18:30 (Cape Canaveral) / 17:30 (Mexico City) / 0:30 (Madrid): press conference after the launch.
Sunday, May 31:
- 06:45 (Cape Canaveral) / 05:45 (Mexico City) / 12:45 (Madrid): live connection with the crew in orbit.
- 10:29 (Cape Canaveral) / 09:29 (Mexico City) / 16:29 (Madrid): coupling of the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station.
- 12:45 (Cape Canaveral) / 11:45 (Mexico City) / 18:45 (Madrid): opening of the hatch and entrance to the International Space Station.
- 13:05 (Cape Canaveral) / 12:05 (Mexico City) / 19:05 (Madrid): Welcome ceremony to the International Space Station.
- 15:15 (Cape Canaveral) / 14:15 (Mexico City) / 21:15 (Madrid): press conference after arrival.
Minute by minute
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will put on their spacesuits approximately four hours before liftoff. After saying goodbye to their families, they will be transferred to launch pad 39A in a Model X.