NASA and SpaceX will launch the first astronauts to the International Space Station from the U.S since 2011. Launch time is 20:33 UT Wednesday which translates to 6:33 AEST.
This is also the first time a commercial company, in partnership with NASA, is providing human transportation services to the space station. It reinforces the massive and exciting transformation underway in the space industry.
The veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are expected to catch a ride to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. It’s a huge moment for space exploration and it marks the beginning of commercially operated crewed rocket launches. NASA and SpaceX have been working toward this goal for over a decade and this launch is the last major test prior to NASA certifying SpaceX Crew dragon for human space flight.
The flight will depart from historic launch pad 39-A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This is the same pad that sent the Apollo 11 astronauts on their way to the moon and also hosted the final space shuttle flight in 2011. That was the last time American astronauts launched from the US; since then, every astronaut bound from the US has needed to hitch a ride on the Russian Soyuz rocket. This will bring the nine year break in US human space flight coming to an end.
You can watch it live on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21X5lGlDOfg.
The astronauts have been in quarantine since May 13th. A two-week quarantine is usual before launches to the International Space Station, but NASA and SpaceX took some extra precautions to ensure that the crew doesn’t bring the novel coronavirus to space. This mostly involved maintaining social distancing practices during training, keeping training personnel to a bare minimum, and requiring anyone interacting with the crew to undergo a temperature check and wear protective gear.
Once in space, it will take about 19 hours for the Crew Dragon to catch up with the space station. During that time, the astronauts will be testing out the capsule’s systems to collect data so NASA can later certify the spacecraft is safe for humans. The capsule is designed to fly without any human intervention, but it comes with backup manual controls that they will test out as they approach the station.
The launch is scheduled for 20:33 pm UT. It’s an instantaneous launch window, so if SpaceX can’t launch exactly on time, it will be pushed back to another day. NASA has a long list of weather criteria that must be met, which includes calm seas downrange from the launch pad. That means that weather not only has to be good in Florida, but across the Atlantic as well.
The backup launch date is scheduled for Saturday, May 30. SpaceX did not respond to additional requests for comment.