NASA and SpaceX confirm SpaceX’s first ever astronaut launch is a ‘go’

NASA and SpaceX confirm SpaceX’s first ever astronaut launch is a ‘go’”

This will be SpaceX's first-ever crewed launch with NASA astronauts aboard the company's Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken were selected in 2015 for this special mission. The last time NASA sent a crew up in an entirely new vehicle was in 1981 with the launch of the Space Shuttle.

The special will feature exclusive interviews with former NASA astronaut and three-time spaceflyer Cady Coleman, current NASA astronaut Christina Koch (who recently finished a almost year-long mission in space) and a host of scientists and NASA officials. "It feels kind of like one of your close family members having a great lifetime achievement - and really, that's what it is". In an interview with Aviation Week & Space Technology, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the return was the part of the mission that he was most anxious about - due to the asymmetry of the Dragon's back shell.

You can watch the NASA TV stream below.

Elon Musk's SpaceX has been launching satellites at a furious clip and testing the Crew Dragon capsule, with both successes and failures along the way. They will then be on-route for a rendezvous with the International Space Station at 11:39 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 28.

This flight demonstration comes nearly a year and a half after the first demo flight of the Crew Dragon (Demo-1).

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi
Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi

Other companies are in the mix: Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic took crew to more than 50 miles above the Earth (and so, technically, into orbit) in 2018 and again in 2019 in tests of its rocket-powered VSS Unity spaceplane in a launch from and to the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California.

According to SpaceX, the instantaneous launch window will open at 4:33 p.m. EDT, or 20:33 UTC. This means that the rocket must lift off at the exact moment the timer reaches T-zero. Today's LRR review event was similarly hosted by Kathy Lueders, Kirk Shireman, and Norm Knight, but they were joined by Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX and Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron. The launch broadcast commentators are Marie Lewis, Dan Huot, Gary Jordan, Derrol Nail, and Tahira Allen from NASA, and Lauren Lyons, John Insprucker, and Jessie Anderson from SpaceX, with special guest host and former NASA astronaut Leland Melvin. Late on Tuesday, the prediction had improved to a 60% likelihood of acceptable weather on launch day; a few days ago it was at 40%. "The primary concerns are flight through precipitation, as well as the anvil and cumulus cloud rules associated with the afternoon convection".

In orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended.

The smooth contours and minimalistic interior - coupled with the similarly glossy flight suits donned by the astronauts in-flight - make SpaceX's approach to spaceflight look more like science fiction than reality.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley (foreground) and Bob Behnken sit in the Crew Dragon capsule, which is equipped with touch-screen controls.

Although the two astronauts appear to be cramped in the above photograph, the Crew Dragon is surprisingly roomy when compared to older spacecraft. The capsule will touch down on Florida's Atlantic Coast, with the two astronauts being recovered and returned to Cape Canaveral.

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