After six years of continued testing, tomorrow, May 27th, SpaceX will become the first private company to fly humans into space as they launch Crew Dragon for a 19 hour flight around Earth. The Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch from the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 4:33pm EST.
This has been a long time coming, as NASA paid SpaceX $3.14 billion dollars to develop and fly Crew Dragon, which will be NASA’s first US flight since the spacecraft was retired in 2011. (The US had been relying on Russia to launch American astronauts into space). SpaceX performed successful pre-testing of the rocket’s launch last year without a crew, as well as testing the emergency escape, an extra layer of protection for the astronauts.
The all-American Crew Dragon consists of two ex-NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, both of whom are experienced astronauts that started as military pilots, and now have spent over 300 hours in space. They will be wearing custom SpaceX pressure suits as they embark on their 19 hour practice flight.
12 minutes into the flight, they will be launched into low Earth orbit, and then the capsule will raise its orbit by periodically igniting the engines in order to stay on track for the scheduled landing. Although the capsule was designed to have minimal human input, Behnken and Hurley will practice some manual driving.
The 19 hour flight will end with SpaceX’s autonomous docking system. Using sensors and cameras, the spacecraft is scheduled to land on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday, May 28th at 11:29am EST. The success of this practice flight will bring new possibilities for SpaceX and NASA, who are hoping to make these flights routine, with the next one coming in only a few months.