NASA and space fans were disappointed Wednesday when the first attempt was canceled due to the weather. They have been waiting for almost a decade for this milestone, which will begin human spaceflight back to US soil.
With only a few minutes left on the countdown clock, officials even suggested on Wednesday that the rocket could have taken off if the launch time was only 10 or 20 minutes later.
But that is not an opportunity for this mission, as astronauts are on their way to space to connect to the International Space Station, which orbits about 250 miles above Earth and travels more than 17,000 miles per hour. This means that the spaceship must adhere to an extremely accurate launch schedule.
NASA and SpaceX̵
7;s plans may change at any time between now and Saturday afternoon, depending on how the forecast changes.
It will also require a lot of luck. The 45th spacecraft must monitor conditions at both the seaside and over a wide stretch of the Atlantic. If the rocket fails and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule has to use its emergency interrupt system to fire the astronauts into safety, they will land in the ocean. And that means officials need to make sure the landing is not made more dangerous by a severe storm or rough waves, so they scan a massive stretch of sea all the way to the coast of Ireland. The team also uses all types of instruments, including radar and weather balloons, to ensure that the rocket gets a smooth ride all the way through the upper atmosphere.
Another question Central Florida is facing: check the crowds in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Florida’s beaches opened earlier this month, and during SpaceX’s first launch attempt on Wednesday, local news outlets reported that spectators crowded public viewing sites, even as a series of thunderstorms rolled through the area.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which did not sell any tickets for Wednesday’s launch, officially opened on Thursday.
The center’s website says that the visitor center will only welcome a limited number of people for the launch and will require masks and temperature controls for all guests. Tickets for SpaceX’s Saturday launch attempt were quickly sold out.
Why is this launch so important?
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 transported people into the orbit of the earth. NASA and space fans have been waiting for almost a decade for this milestone.
The United States has not launched its own astronauts into space since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Since then, NASA astronauts have been forced to travel to Russia and train on the country’s Soyuz spacecraft. These sites have cost NASA as much as $ 86 million each.
But the space agency chose not to create its own compensation for Shuttle. Instead, the private sector asked to develop a spaceship that could safely ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station – a controversial decision given that NASA had never outsourced the development of a human-ranked spacecraft. The idea was that commercial companies could lower costs and stimulate innovation, and NASA would have more time and resources to focus on exploring deeper into the solar system.
In 2014, NASA awarded two contracts: $ 4.2 billion for Boeing to build its Starliner vehicle and $ 2.6 billion for SpaceX, which planned to create a crew-worthy version of the Dragon spaceship that was already flying cargo to and from the International Space Station . NASA had already put money into SpaceX’s development of the Dragon spacecraft used to transport goods. The space agency has said that Boeing got more money because it designed Starliner from the ground up.
Boeing recently suffered a significant setback when a Starliner capsule did not work during a keyless test flight. But if SpaceX can perform this mission, it will be a big win for NASA, which has pushed for more commercial partnerships.
Not to mention, NASA will not have to ask Russia for rides anymore.
Is it safe to launch during the pandemic?
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, has faced harsh criticism over his online comments about coronavirus. He has repeatedly expressed his belief that the US coronavirus response is exaggerated and he has shared misinformation about its threats.
But according to NASA, it is both necessary and safe to proceed with this particular mission.
The space agency must keep the International Space Station, a giant orbiting laboratory, fully staffed with American astronauts to keep the business running.
The astronauts scheduled to fly on this mission have been in strict quarantine together, and extra precautions are being taken to keep everything clean, NASA has said.
Starting officials and assignment controllers will need to gather to support the launch, but they have implemented additional security measures, such as changing control rooms when a new shift begins so that the second room can be deeply cleaned.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said he hopes this launch will inspire awe and raise the public during the ongoing health crisis. He and SpaceX chief executive Gwynne Shotwell previously asked the public to follow the launch on TV to prevent audience spectators from triggering a Covid 19 outbreak.
Where is the liftoff and how can I watch?
The rocket will launch from Pad 39A, a historic site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Florida. Pad 39A has been the starting point for missions going back to the Apollo era, including the first lunar landing in 1969. SpaceX is currently leasing the NASA launch pad.
SpaceX and NASA will host a webcast during the launch that begins at about 11 PM ET, and they will keep the live coverage rolling at least until Crew Dragon docks with the space station about 19 hours after launch.
CNN and other news networks will also share live updates on TV and online.
Who flies to space?
Two veteran astronauts: Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53.
They work for NASA, but they have worked closely with SpaceX and have been trained to fly the Crew Dragon capsule, which will only be the fifth spacecraft design – after Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle vehicles – that NASA has certified just as safely enough for people.
Behnken and Hurley both began their careers as military test pilots and have logged hundreds of hours piloting supersonic jet aircraft. They also both flew on the former space shuttle. When NASA selected them for this mission in 2018, a long line of military test pilots continued to be considered “right stuff” for groundbreaking moments in human spaceflight history.
NASA wants to keep Behnken and Hurley at the space station until another Crew Dragon capsule is ready to send more people
on their next assignment.
The astronauts told reporters last week that they expect to spend one to three months in space. The maximum length is 110 days, according to NASA.
When Behnken and Hurley return home, they will board the Crew Dragon, travel back through the atmosphere while the vehicle removes parachutes and then land in the Atlantic.
What is Crew Dragon?
It is a rubber drop shaped capsule that measures approximately 13 feet in diameter and is equipped with seven seats and touchscreen controls.
Crew Dragon and astronauts will ride into orbit on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and astronauts will board the vehicle the day of launch using a “crew access arm”. After the rocket has pushed the Crew Dragon into the upper atmosphere, the spaceship will separate and launch its own thrusters to begin maneuvering toward the space station.
The Crew Dragon capsule is completely autonomous, so astronauts will usually only need to monitor the systems and keep in touch with mission control unless something goes wrong.
Although Behnken and Hurley ride with a few empty seats on board, they do not plan to bring extra luggage. But they will carry a few special loads: a symbolic work of art and a composite photo that honors the candidates in 2020.
The astronauts will spend about 19 hours aboard the spaceship before arriving at the International Space Station.
And yes, Crew Dragon has a toilet – just in case. Details of how it works have not been published. But an astronaut working on the Crew Dragon program said he has seen the design and said housing is “perfectly adequate for that task.”
What is the International Space Station?
The International Space Station has orbited the Earth for two decades. The United States and Russia are the station’s primary operators, but 240 astronauts from 19 countries have visited over the years.
Rotating crews of astronauts have been manned ISS continuously since 2000, allowing thousands of scientific experiments to be conducted in microgravity. Research has included everything from how the human body responds to being in space to developing new medicines.
Usually, about six people live at the International Space Station. But right now there are only three: NASA’s Christopher Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
What does this cost?
Seats at Russia’s Soyuz launches have cost NASA up to about $ 90 million each and about $ 55 million on average over the past decade, according to a 2019 report from NASA’s Office of the Inspector.
The same report estimates that Crew Dragon locations will cost NASA about $ 55 million each. But there are estimates based on a contract that does not clearly define the cost per site and only accounts for the first six assignments.
A new analysis from the nonprofit Planetary Society, which promotes science and space exploration, suggests that NASA’s commercial crew program is, overall, a bargain compared to previous human spaceflight programs in the United States.
Is Crew Dragon safe?
Both SpaceX and NASA have had to log out for Crew Dragon’s development during each major milestone. And this mission will be no different.
Last week, NASA conducted a “launch readiness review” that was intended to ensure that all stakeholders are comfortable moving forward.
Every time a spaceship leaves the earth, there are risks, and there are no perfect measurements to predict them.
But NASA is trying: SpaceX is required to ensure that the Crew Dragon only has a 1 to 270 risk of catastrophic error, based on a metric used by the space agency. Many attempts have been made to calculate what the risk was for a particular space shuttle mission. In the end, there were two Shuttle tragedies out of 135 missions – a failure rate of about 1 in every 68 missions.
It should also be noted that Crew Dragon’s previously unencumbered voyage to space gives it more experience than other US spaceships had before humans were allowed on board. The space shuttle, for example, was never taken on an uncontrolled test run.
Crew Dragon is also equipped with a unique emergency interrupt system designed to protect astronauts in the event of a malfunction.
How will this affect the United States’ relationship with Russia?
Officials in both countries have maintained their symbiotic relationship at the International Space Station as a beacon for cooperation after the Cold War. But tensions have risen since the beginning of the 2010s, and sometimes it has sprawled
into the countries’ space partnership.
But the International Space Station has survived other geopolitical tensions. American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts are still working closely.
NASA officials said that Russia and Japan, another ISS partner, were both involved in discussions for a Crew Dragon security review last week.
How difficult was it for SpaceX to reach this point?
SpaceX’s relationship with NASA has evolved dramatically over the years. In the 2000s, SpaceX’s first rocket launch attempt failed, and the company nearly went bankrupt in 2008 before successfully launching one of its early Falcon 1 rockets into orbit. After that, NASA took a chance on an upstart and awarded SpaceX a $ 1.6 billion contract to fly cargo to the space station using a new capsule, Dragon and rocket, called Falcon 9.
SpaceX and NASA have worked closely – and sometimes troublesome – together ever since. Their partnership has survived two unsuccessful SpaceX Falcon 9 missions: One year in 2015, when a rocket hauled 5,000 pounds of space to the space station exploded on its way to orbit. In 2016, another Falcon 9 rocket exploded while sitting on a Florida launch pad, destroying a $ 200 million telecommunications satellite.
But the vast majority of the 80-plus Falcon 9 missions that SpaceX has launched so far have gone smoothly.
A setback in the development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft came last year, when SpaceX conducted a ground test of the vehicle’s emergency stop engines went off explosively.
SpaceX worked for months to configure the Crew Dragon design and clear it with NASA before the interrupted engines performed flawlessly in a test flight in January.
Will Crew Dragon make a new trip?
One of SpaceX’s main goals is to reduce the cost of launching objects in space by reusing hardware.
Dragon capsules that, for example, fly cargo have been used up to three times.
And since 2015, SpaceX has been able to safely land a Falcon 9’s first stage booster, the largest part of the rocket that provides the initial momentum at the liftoff, several times.
The rocket used for this week’s mission will be brand new, but SpaceX will try to restore the rocket’s first-stage rocket booster by landing it on a sea-going drone after launch.
Each Crew Dragon spacecraft can also make multiple trips to space, the company has suggested.
SpaceX’s most ambitious reuse efforts will be with Starship – a giant spaceship currently in its early stages of development. Musk hopes that every bit of that vehicle, and the giant rocket booster that will arch it into space, can be reused.
Starship is at the heart of Musk’s long-term plan for SpaceX: Send People to Live on Mars.