The Falcon 9 rocket will be used during the Demo-2 mission on May 27th. (Image Credit: NASA)


NASA will be launching its first crew mission on American soil for the first time since July 2011. Bob Behuken and Doug Hurley will be the first NASA astronauts to launch to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft in a final test flight for SpaceX. The Demo-2 mission, which will use a Falcon 9 rocket, is scheduled for a 4:32 p.m. EDT liftoff on May 27th from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


As soon as they’ve completed their mission, both Behnken and Hurley will come back down to Earth, making a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, off Florida’s east coast, where a SpaceX recovery ship will retrieve them.


NASA awarded SpaceX with over $3.1 billion from the Commercial Crew Program to help fund the capsule’s development. Boeing is also competing for contracts, and to date, they’ve received more than $4.8 billion in awards. The company has developed its own Starliner spacecraft, which first launched in December but failed to reach the International Space Station due to software glitches. They plan on flying a second unmanned test flight for NASA before sending astronauts aboard it.


Astronauts Bob Benhken and Doug Harley participate in a simulation of the launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. (Image Credit: SpaceX)


The Demo-2 mission will be a big step forward for SpaceX’s goal to launch people in space. Even though SpaceX has previously launched spacecraft, satellites and cargo ever since the company was founded in 2002, it has never launched astronauts in their spacecraft before.


This launch will mark the final test flight for SpaceX’s systems before NASA verifies it can be operated. The plan here would be to bring the two astronauts, Behnken and Hurley, back from the International Space Station after approximately two to three months. After returning for a month, NASA and SpaceX will be launching Crew-1, which is also considered to be Crew Dragon’s first operational flight. The Crew-1 launch will also mark the official start of SpaceX, sending astronauts to the space station on a regular basis.


NASA and SpaceX are also being extra cautious to keep the astronauts and other staff members safe amid the coronavirus outbreak. Even though NASA’s centers across the country have shut down, they have declared Demo-2 a vital mission, which will allow them to proceed with the launch despite strict stay-at-home regulations stipulated by the government. Around 350 NASA employees are working for the Commercial Crew program while wearing protective equipment.


The agency is ensuring that all their employees are practicing social distancing by using shifts of workers where they can enable additional distancing measures. Their astronaut trainers are also closely following CDC recommendations on infection control by limiting the number of employees that can come in contact with the two astronauts. They always quarantine astronauts before they launch to the space station, but now they’re taking extra precautions to keep them safe.


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