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NASA still doesn’t know how long SpaceX’s astronaut mission will last

Published May 5th, 2020 2:42PM EDT
crew dragon launch
Image: NASA

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  • NASA hasn’t decided how long the first crewed SpaceX flight to the International Space Station will last.
  • The launch will be the final stage in the demonstration phase before NASA certifies Crew Dragon.
  • The launch is currently scheduled for May 27th.
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We’re fast approaching crunch time for the partnership between NASA and SpaceX that will culminate in the first NASA astronauts being launched from US soil since the Space Shuttle era. SpaceX developed its Crew Dragon capsule as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and on May 27th, the spacecraft will carry a pair of astronauts to the International Space Station.

It’s going to be a very big day and a huge milestone for both SpaceX and NASA, but there’s still a big question left unanswered: How long will astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley remain in space during this first crewed SpaceX launch?

As Teslarati reports, NASA is still working through its plans and hasn’t decided the length of time the duo will remain aboard the orbiting laboratory once they arrive. The mission is obviously a huge deal for SpaceX, but NASA wants its astronauts to get some work done while they’re in space, too.

As the first crewed flight of the Crew Dragon, SpaceX would love to get the astronauts safely into space and then return them to Earth swiftly, thus completing NASA’s certification and allowing the company to go all-in on preparing for future launches. That being said, getting humans into space isn’t easy, and NASA doesn’t want to waste the trip.

Ultimately, this first crewed launch is still a test. It’s a demonstration that the spacecraft can safely and efficiently deliver scientists to the ISS. The next manned flight of Crew Dragon will see NASA send four astronauts to the space station for a much longer period of time. Ideally, NASA would like these two missions to come as close to overlapping as possible.

“It is a trade-off between getting the spacecraft back quickly to complete its certification and providing additional crew time on the station for maintenance and research,” NASA ISS Program Manager Kirk Shireman said during a recent briefing. “What we would like to do, from a station perspective, is to keep them on orbit as long as we can until that Crew-1 vehicle is just about ready to go, bring Demo-2 home, allow that certification work to be completed and launch Crew-1.”

This, of course, assumes that everything goes well with this final demonstration mission. NASA will surely have some notes for SpaceX perhaps some small things it would like to see addressed or changed, but once the spacecraft is certified for use by NASA, it will officially enter service with the space agency.