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SpaceX’s Crew Dragon arrives for its date with destiny

Published May 22nd, 2020 6:04PM EDT
crew dragon launch
Image: NASA

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  • SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is days away from its highly anticipated launch to the International Space Station.
  • It will be the first crewed launch in SpaceX history, and the first time NASA has sent humans to space from US soil since the Space Shuttle Era.
  • NASA still hasn’t decided how long the astronauts will stay in space.

NASA is less than a week away from launching humans into space from US soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle era. It’s an absolutely huge moment for NASA, but perhaps an even bigger moment for SpaceX. It will be a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule that will send NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into space, and it’ll be the first manned launch in the company’s history.

Now, as the anticipation for the launch reaches a fever pitch, the SpaceX hardware has arrived at Kennedy Space Center and preparations have begun for the launch. The finish line of NASA’s Commercial Crew program is fast approaching.

The Commercial Crew program was born out of NASA’s desire to speed up the development and testing of crew-capable spacecraft without having to do most of the work. The agency hired both SpaceX and Boeing to deliver safe, reliable hardware that it could use to send astronauts into space whenever it wanted, without paying for seats on Russian rockets.

Early on, Boeing was the favorite to finish first, with its Starliner spacecraft expected to be ready before SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. Boeing, as we’ve all seen, has had a rough couple of years, and it wasn’t long before SpaceX was the clear frontrunner to deliver on its promise to NASA. Starliner’s failure to make it to the International Space Station during a demo test sealed the deal and made the race SpaceX’s to lose.

Now, with the launch fast approaching, it’s an all-hands-on-deck scenario for SpaceX and NASA staff at Kennedy. The launch is scheduled for May 27th at 4:33 p.m. EDT. Assuming all goes well, the Crew Dragon will dock with the International Space Station a short while later.

It’s important to note that this is still considered a demonstration mission, even though NASA astronauts are riding along. SpaceX has to prove that its spacecraft is safe and fully functional, and any issues that pop up during the mission will surely end up on the company’s to-do list.

NASA isn’t sure how long it wants the astronaut duo to spend on the International Space Station after arriving via the Crew Dragon. It has left the window open for a variety of options including a short visit of weeks or a much longer, months-long tour. Whenever the space agency decides to bring them home, the Crew Dragon will have to pass its final test by ensuring a safe arrival back on Earth.

If all of those things line up, NASA will be able to sign off on the Crew Dragon and begin using it for missions to the ISS whenever it pleases.

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