May 30, marked ‘a great day for America’ when SpaceX rocket Falcon 9 launched with NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken. The Crew Dragon shot for space from the Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad 39A. As fixed, the launch time was 3:22 pm and the weather was fine for takeoff, unlike the previous attempt. The mission Demo-2 is a crucial flight test to prove the worth of the transportation system crafted by SpaceX. The launch marked the beginning of possibilities for having commercial crew go to space.
The historic launch
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that it was a big day for the teams of NASA, SpaceX, and the entire country of America. After nine years, American astronauts were sent to space in American rockets and from the soil of America. His happiness knew no bounds as he stated “now we have done it again”.
It was a big day for Elon Musk who said that he acknowledges the amazing work that people at NASA and SpaceX have put in to create the technology. Everyone’s hard work made the incredible launch possible and now American astronauts are back to the orbit after a decade. He also added that the astronauts must be brought safely back home and ensure repetitive missions and regular occurrence of such launches. Musk then added that “there’s a lot of work to do”.
As the countdown proceeded the way it was planned on May 27, the astronauts were healthy and the weather was in control. However, initially, they were facing issues due to mild rain and electricity in the atmosphere.
Kathy Lueders, the manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said that the weather didn’t look favorable at all. However, they realized that they have other things to look forward to. The team had to carefully weigh the options and determine if the spacecraft is ready to take off.
The team waited for Mike McAleenan, the Launch Weather Officer, to say “go”. Him, along with the US Air Force 45th Weather Squadron gave the heads-up. The remaining moments of the countdown came quickly and it was a great moment to launch the Crew Dragon. The Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon functioned as expected, while climbing to the orbit, and the spacecraft left the rocket right on time – around 12 minutes after the launch.
How the astronauts reacted
SpaceX Chief Engineer, Bala Ramamurthy, communicated with the crew right after the separation and said “Dragon, chief engineer on Dragon-to-Ground”. He then thanked the astronauts for flying and hoped they have a good ride and a good mission. Robert Behnken thanked Bala and congratulated the team to make human ride possible by Falcon 9. He also said that it was amazing and he appreciates the hard work that went into giving him the ride to space. Hurley added that he’s proud of the teams and thanked for putting the US back in the low-Earth orbit from the Florida coast.
Arrival and docking
The Crew Dragon started the 19-hour pursuit of the station once it arrived in the orbit. It started with a phase burn and them the first manual flight test.
Lueders stated that the astronauts are doing a lot to test the mission and accomplish the goals. They have to do their manual flight demonstrations and what it is like to use touchscreens in zero-gravity. They also have to check different parts of the system and liberate zero-gravity indicator.
The Crew Dragon performed a series of phasing maneuvers for gradually approaching and dock with the International Space Station on May 31. After docking, the hatches between the spacecraft opened at around 12:45 PM EDT and the astronauts were welcomed by members of Expedition 63 crew. Hurley and Behnken then started the tests of the Crew Dragon along with doing research and more tasks.
The crew of Expedition 63 Anatoly Ivanishin, Chris Cassidy, and Ivan Vagner welcomed Hurley and Behnken. The manager of NASA’s International Space Station Program, Kirk Shireman, said that the crew has been anticipating the arrival of Hurley and Behnken. They were excited to have them and had a lot of work to be done. He also added that Bob and Doug were going to become busy once they reached and that so happened.
What went behind training for the mission?
Both Hurley and Behnken have spent years in training and being a part of the crew transportation system by SpaceX. NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester said that he has never seen astronauts so focused and calm while launching for space like these two men. Pat Forrester has been in quarantine in the Kennedy Astronaut Crew Quarters through the lockdown. He acknowledges the experience and training of the crew and believes that their calmness is possible due to the confidence of both teams of NASA and SpaceX. He also said that the astronauts demonstrate their trust in NASA and SpaceX and that’s what has gotten them to the orbit safely.
What does Mission Demo-2 success determine?
Mission Demo-2 is the final test flight for SpaceX to validate the transportation system for astronauts. It includes the Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, launch pad, and other operational possibilities.
The mission has helped the SpaceX team controllers and the astronauts to validate the performance of the spacecraft’s environmental control system, maneuvering thrusters, displays, and control systems, and autonomous docking capability.
Crew Dragon is also used for a flight test and it can stay in the orbit for around 110 days. The duration of the mission can now determine how ready the following launches are. The Crew Dragon can stay in the order for about 210 days for a requirement from NASA.
Hurley and Behnken will board the Crew Dragon at the end of the mission. Next, it will autonomously undock and depart from the space station and go back to the earth. It is going to splashdown at Florida’s Atlantic coast and the astronauts will be picked up by a recovery ship by SpaceX and then returned to Cape Canaveral. Lueders said that he is grateful for how SpaceX and NASA worked together. He assured that the astronauts will be brought back home safely.
Currently, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is in collaboration with SpaceX and Boeing. Together they want to build, design, operate, and test the possible ways of making space transportation low-cost. The companies are focusing on the test missions with abort system demonstration. There will be more flight tests by the crew before such flying missions.