Dubbed Demo-2, this mission will not only see SpaceX's crewed spacecraft sent to space for the first time with astronauts aboard, it will also be the first time since 2011 (and the retiring of the Space Shuttle) that astronauts are launched from U.S. soil.
Once operations aboard the ISS are complete, the astronauts will return to the Crew Dragon and wait while it autonomously undocks from the space station and brings them home.
Entrepreneur Elon MUS$k's SpaceX is set to launch two American astronauts to the International Space Station on Wednesday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, ending the USA space agency's nine-year hiatUS$ in human spaceflight. Should all go according to plan, the two will arrive at the International Space Station some 24 hours later.
Wearing sleek new white outfits, Colonel Hurley and Colonel Behnken are expected to transfer from a white Tesla to the white Dragon capsule atop the equally white Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday.
The Demo-2 mission is the final major test before NASA certifies the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft for regular human transport missions to the ISS.
Born in St. Anne, Missouri, Bob Behnken has a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and was a flight test engineer with the U.S. Air Force before joining NASA.
Thursday's launch of the manned Crew Dragon was scrubbed due to "unfavorable weather in the flight path", according to a SpaceX tweet. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner system is nearly ready, but a glitchy uncrewed test late past year set the program back. This included the STS-127 flight in July of 2009 and the final Space Shuttle mission (STS-135), which took place in July of 2011. The astronauts have been in quarantine since May 13, and with extra precautions given the ongoing covid-19 pandemic. A successful static fire test of the Falcon 9's nine Merlin first-stage engines was also conducted on Friday. Fellow rocketeer Robert Behnken echoed that sentiment, adding that he is "so proud of the NASA and SpaceX team" and that he and Hurley "will be ready with them again on Saturday". Monday, the Launch Readiness Review (LRR) was completed.
"It certainly has been trending better over the last day or two for launch weather", said Mike McAleenan of the weather squadron.
During the mission, Behnken and Hurley will test critical components of the Crew Dragon, such as its artificial environment, displays, control system, manoeuvring thrusters, and so on.
Once the Crew Dragon reaches orbit, the spacecraft will perform a series of orbit-raising maneuvers to position itself for a rendezvous and docking with the ISS. Once aboard the ISS, Behnken and Hurley will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. In response to a question regarding human rating by CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz, Steve Jurczyk stated that the Demo-2 FRR was an "intermittent interim human rating certification review - validated that this system meets the human rating certification requirements for the Demo-2 mission and those requirements feed forward to future missions, including the Crew-1 mission". This capsule is now fitted such that it can stay in orbit for 110 days.
While the forecast does not include the outlook for downrange abort zones where the astronauts could be forced to ditch in the unlikely event of a catastrophic booster failure, officials said conditions in the Atlantic Ocean along the capsule's northeasterly trajectory are generally favorable.
However, before SpaceX and NASA can proceed with operational flights of the Crew Dragon, the duo will first need to ace the maiden crewed flight of the spacecraft.