Early tomorrow morning local time 5:22am to precise (AEST) we will be bale to watch the second launch attempt of the SpaceX first human flight to the International Space Station (ISS). The stakes have never been higher for Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
This will mark the first time in history that a commercial aerospace company has carried humans into Earth’s orbit. NASA and space fans have waited nearly a decade for this milestone.
The US hasn’t sent its own craft to space since it ended the Shuttle program in 2011. To get US astronauts to the ISS it has had to pay up to $86 Million USD per seat to the Russians for a seat on the Soyuz space craft.
So after choosing not to develop its own program it outsourced the contract to build a human rated spacecraft. In 2014 NASA awarded two contracts: $4.2 billion for Boeing to build its Starliner vehicle, and $2.6 billion to SpaceX, which planned to create a crew worthy version of the Dragon spacecraft that was already flying cargo to and from the International Space Station.
Boeing recently suffered a major setback when a Starliner capsule malfunctioned during a key uncrewed test flight. But if SpaceX can carry out this mission, it’ll be a major win for NASA, which has been pushing for more commercial partnerships plus won’t have to buy seats off the Russians any more.
The rocket will take off from the historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Florida. This has been the starting point of missions dating back to the Apollo era, including the first moon landing in 1969. SpaceX currently leases the launch pad from NASA.
Astronauts Behnken and Hurley began their careers as military test pilots having logged hundreds of hours piloting supersonic jets. They have both both flown previous Space Shuttle missions. When they were selected in 2018, it continued a long lineage of military test pilots who were deemed to have the ‘right stuff’.
They will stay on the space station until another Crew Dragon capsule is ready to send the next astronauts on its next mission. Typically, about six people stay on the International Space Station. Currently there are only three: NASA’s Christopher Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The astronauts said last week that they’re expecting to spend one to three months in space. The maximum time they can stay according to NASA is 110 days.This is because the Crew Dragon can only stay in space for about four months because of its solar panels. The thin atmosphere in space degrades the panels over time, limiting the vehicle’s lifetime in orbit. The next crew launch will consist of 3 Americans and one Japanese astronaut.
Even though SpaceX has reused rockets an number of time previously the Falcon rocket for this flight is brand new. If all goes as planned, it’s a quick trip to Earth orbit for the two astronauts. The Falcon 9 rocket will release the Crew Dragon into low Earth orbit about 12 minutes after takeoff. The rocket will then return to Earth where it is scheduled to land on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
Today’s bit of trivia – the Crew Dragon does have a toilet — just in case. Couldn’t find information on how it works – just a comment that assures us that the accommodations are “perfectly adequate for that task.”