It’s been several years in the making but NASA and SpaceX have finally set a date for their historic spaceflight. On May 27, the duo will send an astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) from U.S. soil on a private spacecraft for the first time.
As the first launch of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, this is a big deal. It has massive implications for the future of private spaceflight. Moreover, it will put the spotlight on SpaceX to perform flawlessly and prove that it is truly the best private space corporation operating today.
The last time that astronauts launched from U.S. soil was in 2011 prior to the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program. Since then, astronauts have made their way to the ISS via launches from other countries—like Russia.
Regarding next month’s historic launch, NASA chief administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “On May 27, will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
The launch will take place from Launch Complex 39A in Florida. U.S. astronauts Bob Behnken and Dough Hurley will fly aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft atop SpaceX’s now-famous Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is scheduled for 4:32 p.m. EST.
Aside from ending America’s nearly-decade long dry spell of launching astronauts from its soil, the occasion also marks the first time that humans have flown aboard a SpaceX craft. To that point, both Behnken and Hurley have been training rigorously for more than a year to ensure that everything goes smoothly.
SpaceX has also done its part by testing its rocket and crew capsule on several occasions. In mid-January, it intentionally blew up a Falcon 9 rocket during an in-flight abortion test. Passing that milestone was one of the final barriers to a manned flight.
Back in March 2019, SpaceX completed an unmanned version of the flight. The Demo-1 mission carried supplies to the ISS and also won an Emmy for its remarkable footage.
One More Test
Although this mission will carry humans on board, it bears the name Demo-2. That’s because it is technically still part of the testing program. SpaceX and NASA will monitor every single aspect of the flight and the pad it departs from. Should everything go smoothly, Crew Dragon will become completely certified for the Commercial Crew program. In other words, NASA will be able to regularly schedule manned launches to deliver astronauts to and from the ISS.
As for this flight, Behnken and Hurley will partake in “an extended stay,” but it isn’t clear how long they’ll remain in orbit. For their sake, hopefully, it will be for at least a few months so that Earth can put the COVID-19 pandemic in the rearview mirror.
If all goes well, NASA has a second commercial crew mission lined up that will launch at an undetermined date later this year. It will carry three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut for a full-length stay aboard the ISS.
Be sure to tune in on May 27 to broadcasts from SpaceX and NASA to catch this historic event. Also, keep an eye out on The Burn-In for the latest news regarding the launch and all things tech.