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'A new era in human spaceflight': SpaceX to launch first test flight with humans in 39 years –



NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are ready to make history as they prepare to become the first two Americans to launch from U.S. soil since 2011.

Behnken and Hurley are scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center at 4:32 p.m. ET on May 27 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a Crew Dragon capsule in the Demo-2 mission.

“This is a new generation, a new era in human space flight,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a teleconference Friday morning.

“When you think about Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and then space shuttle, those are really the four times in history when we have put humans on brand-new spacecraft,” he said.

“And now we’re doing it for the fifth time. And that’s just the United States. If you look globally, this will be the ninth time in history when we put humans on a brand-new spacecraft.”

The Crew Dragon sits at the launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the crew access arm in position ahead of 2019’s Demo-1 launch, the uncrewed precursor to the upcoming mission. (SpaceX)

First ocean landing since Apollo

Demo-2 is the first test with humans since the 1981 launch of the space shuttle Columbia. It will also mark the first time astronauts have landed in the ocean since the Apollo missions.

The May 27 launch follows the first test, Demo-1, a mission that sent an uncrewed Crew Dragon to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) in March 2019, while Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques was aboard.

Following the Demo-2 launch, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket will return to Earth at the floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. The astronauts will then spend two or three months with the three men currently on the ISS, American astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

The pair be launching in a brand-new vehicle and wearing brand-new SpaceX spacesuits designed specifically for the Crew Dragon and up-to-date tech such as touch screens, something that the astronauts said took some getting used to.

U.S. and Canada used Russian rockets

On July 8, 2011, the space shuttle era came to a close as Endeavour soared into the sky for the final time.

With nothing to replace it, Americans — and Canadians — were left to launch atop the Russian space agency’s (Roscosmos) Soyuz rockets. The cost for a seat? Roughly $80 million US.

But in 2014, NASA awarded contracts to two commercial companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to make the next generation spacecraft that would take astronauts to the ISS.

This photo shows a life-size test dummy along with a toy that is floating in the Dragon capsule as the capsule made orbit on Saturday, March 2, 2019, in the Demo-1 launch of the Crew Dragon. (SpaceX via AP)

SpaceX was the first to complete all its testing, though it did have a few delays and setbacks, including the loss of the original Crew Dragon in April 2019 in an explosion.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner has also suffered setbacks. The last one was in December 2019, when its uncrewed test failed to reach the ISS. An investigation following the incident found that the spacecraft actually risked destruction twice.

Boeing’s next test flight will occur sometime later this year.

If the Demo-2 test flight is successful, the official start of SpaceX astronaut launches from the U.S. to the ISS will be Crew-1. No specific date has been set.

Seasoned astronauts

Both Behnken and Hurley are seasoned astronauts. Behnken flew on two shuttle flights, STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2011. He also performed three spacewalks during each mission.

Hurley also flew on two shuttle flights, STS‐127 in July 2009 and the final mission, STS‐135 in 2011.

Behnken and Hurley use SpaceX’s flight simulator at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in mid-March. (SpaceX)

“I certainly didn’t expect to fly again,” Hurley said on Friday.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and CEO, said that she’s anxious to get the astronauts launched and safely home.

“My heart is sitting right here,” she said with her hand at her throat. “And I think it’s going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the International Space Station.”

Next Canadian astronaut watching closely

Jeremy Hansen, the next Canadian astronaut to head into space, will fly on either the SpaceX Crew Dragon or Boeing Starliner no later than 2024. He, too, will be watching the launch closely.

“I’ll be excited … a little bit nervous for my colleagues, of course, but I do have a lot of faith in it,” Hansen said of the new spacecraft. “We know what we’re doing. There are risks that are being managed, but we’re returning something that we’ve been working on for a long time, so it’s going to be rewarding to see it come to fruition.”

Jeremy Hansen, Canada’s next astronaut scheduled to launch into space, said he’s excited about the Demo-2 mission. It’s likely he will launch aboard either the SpaceX Crew Dragon or Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Shotwell said this endeavour wasn’t only about building a spacecraft, but also all of SpaceX’s employees getting to know the crew on a personal level.

“I wanted to make sure that everyone at SpaceX understood and knew Bob and Doug as astronauts, as test pilots — badass — but dads and husbands. I wanted to bring some humanity to this deeply technical effort as well.”

Launching during a pandemic

The launch will be historic for another reason: unlike most launches, NASA and SpaceX are insisting that people not head down to Cape Canaveral to watch the historic event. 

“The challenge that we’re up against now is that we want to keep everybody safe,” Bridenstine said. 

Hurley said the current situation is disappointing, but that encouraging people to stay home is the right thing to do.

“We just want everybody to be safe and enjoy this and relish this moment in U.S. space history,” he said.

The astronauts themselves have been taking extra precautions themselves during training, Shotwell said. Only essential personnel have been around the pair, and masks and gloves have been used by those who do come in contact with them.

“It’s not only about Bob and Doug’s safety but also the safety of the crew on board the International Space Station,” said Kathy Lueders, program manager of the commercial crew program at NASA.

“It is a shame that more people are not going to be able to enjoy it in Florida. However, it is the right thing to do. Watch it from home; watch it online; watch it on TV,” Shotwell said.

“Be there for the ride with us. We’ll be together in spirit more so than in physical space.”

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SpaceX's astronaut-riding Dragon approaches space station – CTV News



SpaceX delivered two astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Sunday, following up a historic liftoff with an equally smooth docking in yet another first for Elon Musk’s company.

With test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken poised to take over manual control if necessary, the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically, no assistance needed.

It was the first time a privately built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the orbiting lab in its nearly 20 years. NASA considers this the opening volley in a business revolution encircling Earth and eventually stretching to the moon and Mars.

The docking occurred just 19 hours after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Saturday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, the nation’s first astronaut launch to orbit from home soil in nearly a decade.

Thousands jammed surrounding beaches, bridges and towns to watch as SpaceX became the world’s first private company to send astronauts into orbit, and ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA.

A few hours before docking, the Dragon riders reported that the capsule was performing beautifully. Just in case, they slipped back into their pressurized launch suits and helmets for the rendezvous.

The three space station residents kept cameras trained on the incoming capsule for the benefit of flight controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Gleaming white in the sunlight, the Dragon was easily visible from a few miles out, its nose cone open and exposing its docking hook as well as a blinking light. The capsule loomed ever larger on live NASA TV as it closed the gap.

Hurley and Behnken took over the controls and did a little piloting less than a couple hundred yards (meters) out as part of the test flight, before putting it back into automatic for the final approach. Hurley said the capsule handled “really well, very crisp.”

SpaceX and NASA officials had held off on any celebrations until after Sunday morning’s docking — and possibly not until the two astronauts are back on Earth sometime this summer.

NASA has yet to decide how long Hurley and Behnken will spend at the space station, somewhere between one and four months. While they’re there, the Dragon test pilots will join the one U.S. and two Russian station residents in performing experiments and possibly spacewalks to install fresh station batteries.

In a show-and-tell earlier Sunday, the astronauts gave a quick tour of the Dragon’s sparkling clean insides, quite spacious for a capsule. They said the liftoff was pretty bumpy and dynamic, nothing the simulators could have mimicked.

The blue sequined dinosaur accompanying them — their young sons’ toy, named Tremor — was also in good shape, Behnken assured viewers. Tremor was going to join Earthy, a plush globe delivered to the space station on last year’s test flight of a crew-less crew Dragon. Behnken said both toys would return to Earth with them at mission’s end.

An old-style capsule splashdown is planned.

After liftoff, Musk told reporters that the capsule’s return will be more dangerous in some ways than its launch. Even so, getting the two astronauts safely to orbit and then the space station had everyone breathing huge sighs of relief.

As always, Musk was looking ahead.

“This is hopefully the first step on a journey toward a civilization on Mars,” he said Saturday evening.

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With SpaceX's first astronaut launch, a new era of human spaceflight has dawned –



We’ve gotten our hopes up before.

The success of NASA’s Apollo moon missions half a century ago, for example, made Mars seem very much within reach for human explorers. Indeed, the space agency drew up plans to put boots on the Red Planet by the early 1980s, but shifting political and societal winds killed that idea in the cradle.

In 1989, President George H.W. Bush announced the Space Exploration Initiative, which aimed to send astronauts back to the moon by the end of the 1990s and get people to Mars in the 2010s. His son, President George W. Bush, also aimed for a crewed lunar return, with a program called Constellation, whose contours were outlined in 2004. Each program was soon axed by the next administration to come into power.

Full coverage: SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 astronaut launch explained

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch launches two NASA astronauts into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft from Pad 39A of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX)

So it’s natural for space fans to greet the grand pronouncements occasioned by SpaceX’s first crewed launch on Saturday (May 30) with a bit of skepticism. Yes, the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), the first orbital human spaceflight to depart from American soil since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, is a big deal. But does it really show that “the commercial space industry is the future,” as President Donald Trump said shortly after liftoff?

Actually, it very well might. 

Demo-2 is far from a one-off, after all. It’s a test flight designed to fully validate SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket for crewed missions to the ISS. The company holds a $2.6 billion NASA contract to conduct six such operational flights, the first of which is targeted for late August, provided Demo-2 goes well.

SpaceX is a highly ambitious company that has already accomplished a great deal in the final frontier; it’s been flying robotic cargo flights to the ISS for NASA since 2012, for example. So, there’s little reason to doubt SpaceX’s ability to fulfill that contract, and to execute a variety of other missions in Earth orbit as well.

Elon Musk’s company has in fact already inked Crew Dragon deals with other customers. For example, Houston-based company Axiom Space, which aims to build a commercial space station in Earth orbit, has booked a Crew Dragon flight to the ISS, with liftoff targeted in late 2021. And the space tourism outfit Space Adventures plans to use the capsule at around the same time, to carry passengers on a mission to high Earth orbit, far above the ISS. 

Then there’s Boeing. Like SpaceX, Boeing signed a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to fly six crewed missions to and from the ISS. Boeing will fulfill the deal with a capsule called CST-100 Starliner, which has made one uncrewed trip to orbit to date. 

That flight, which launched this past December, didn’t go as planned; Starliner was supposed to meet up with the ISS but suffered a glitch with its onboard timing system and got trapped in the wrong orbit. But Boeing plans to refly the uncrewed ISS mission later this year and put astronauts on Starliner shortly thereafter, provided everything goes well.

Related: Four new US spaceships may start launching people into space soon

Activity is heating up in the suborbital realm as well. 

For example, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has already flown two piloted missions to suborbital space with its newest SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity. The company is in the final phases of its test campaign and looks poised to begin carrying space tourists aboard the six-passenger Unity soon.

And Blue Origin, the spaceflight company run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has reached space numerous times with its suborbital vehicle, known as New Shepard. Those test flights have been uncrewed to date, but it probably won’t be long before New Shepard begins carrying customers as well.

The names on this list chip away at the skepticism even more. We aren’t talking about cash-strapped startups here; Bezos is the world’s richest man, and Musk and Branson are both billionaires. And Boeing is an aerospace giant with a long history of achievement in the human spaceflight realm. The company is the prime contractor for the ISS, for example, and it built the first stage of NASA’s huge Saturn V rocket, which launched the Apollo moon missions. 

So there’s real reason to hope that an exciting new era of human spaceflight has dawned — perhaps one that will even see people riding private spaceships to the moon, Mars and other destinations in deep space. 

Musk has long stressed that he founded SpaceX back in 2002 primarily to help humanity colonize the Red Planet, and the company is already building and testing prototypes of Starship, the vehicle designed to make that happen. And Bezos has repeatedly said that his overarching vision for Blue Origin involves helping to get millions of people living and working in space.

This coming private boom isn’t booting NASA off the human-spaceflight block, of course. The space agency has deep space ambitions of its own. Its Artemis program aims to land two astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2024 and establish a long-term human presence on and around the moon by 2028. 

And the moon will be a stepping stone, if all goes according to NASA’s plan, teaching the agency the skills and techniques required to put boots on Mars.

NASA wants to make that giant leap in the 2030s. We’ll see if the political will and the funding hold long enough for the agency to do it.

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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How to watch SpaceX’s Crew Dragon dock with the International Space Station live – The Verge



On Saturday afternoon, SpaceX launched its first human crew to space for NASA on the company’s new Crew Dragon spacecraft — but the mission isn’t over yet. After spending nearly a full day in orbit, the two passengers on board SpaceX’s vehicle, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will attempt to dock with the International Space Station this morning.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has an automatic docking system, which uses a series of sensors and cameras to help the vehicle approach the ISS and then grab on to an existing docking port. The Crew Dragon successfully tested out this technique last year when SpaceX launched a test version of the vehicle to the ISS without crew on board. But this time, the Crew Dragon will carry very precious cargo.

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While the Crew Dragon is capable of getting Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the station on its own, the two astronauts do plan to do some manual flying when they get close to the ISS. Somewhere between 220 and 170 meters out from the station, the crew will practice flying the capsule manually, using the vehicle’s touchscreen interface inside. Once they’re done, the automatic system will take over again, and the Crew Dragon will do the rest of the work to get to the station.

NASA is providing round-the-clock coverage of the Crew Dragon’s mission right now, but things kick off this morning when Behnken and Hurley do a broadcast from inside the Crew Dragon. Docking will come about a few hours later at 10:29AM ET. All of the events will take place live on NASA’s TV stream above.

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