The test flight will send two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station

By Rachel DeSantis
May 26, 2020 01:05 PM
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(L-R) Doug Hurley, Bob Behnken
NASA

NASA is launching a SpaceX spacecraft into orbit on Wednesday, which will be the first flight of American astronauts on American rockets from American soil in nine years.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off at 4:33 p.m. EST from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, bringing NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station, the agency said in a release.

The launch is a test flight for the Crew Dragon craft, and though it will be the second spaceflight test, it’s the first time that astronauts will be on board.

It’ll take off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket.

“The highest priority is to test the vehicle and get it home safely, and then be prepared to launch Crew-1,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said at a media conference Tuesday.

Added Behnken: “It has a lot of features and capabilities that hopefully we never have to utilize in a real mission, but Doug and I will make sure that they are all ready just in case we do.”

The launch is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and “will provide data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations,” NASA said. It must complete the trip before it can be certified by the program.

It’s scheduled to dock at the International Space Station on Thursday morning, at which point Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, will become members of the Expedition 63 crew.

When the Crew Dragon returns to Earth remains to be seen; the spacecraft being used for the test flight can stay in orbit for about 110 days, but its return is dependent upon when the next commercial crew launch will be ready.

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When it does come back, it will leave the space station with Behnken and Hurley on board and splash down off the Atlantic Coast near Florida, where it will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and brought back to Cape Canaveral.

Behnken, who was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights, will serve as joint operations commander for the mission, while Hurley, who has also been a NASA astronaut since 2000 and has completed two spaceflights, will be spacecraft commander.

Hurley expressed his excitement ahead of the launch on Twitter, retweeting a picture of the spacecraft that was shared by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

“What a machine!” he wrote.

Members of the public will not be allowed to attend the launch due to coronavirus restrictions, but all can watch virtually on NASA TV, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Should all go well, NASA is expected to certify the Crew Dragon for “operational space station crew rotation missions, clearing the way for launch of a three-man, one-woman crew this fall,” CBS News reported.