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SpaceX Crew Dragon launch

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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are about to star in the biggest spaceflight event of the decade: launching on the inaugural flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. For years, they’ve anticipated this moment, picturing throngs of people lined up on Florida’s beaches to watch them ascend into the sky.

“Everyone is like, ‘When is it going to be? Am I going to get invited?’” Hurley told The Verge last year of the texts he received from eager friends and family. “It’s fun … being able to have a lot more people come and enjoy and see a launch in Florida than they would be able to in Kazakhstan.”

Now, their launch will likely look very different, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip the nation. That electric atmosphere they expected will mostly be absent for this monumental flight as NASA has urged spectators to watch the launch from home — and it’s what the two astronauts want, too.

“It certainly is a disappointing aspect of all this pandemic is the fact that we won’t have, you know, the luxury of our family and friends being there at Kennedy [Space Center in Florida] to watch the launch. But it’s obviously the right thing to do in the current environment,” Hurley said during a press conference this month.

Even though the atmosphere will be different, Hurley and Behnken, both longtime colleagues and friends, are still set to make history together when they board the Crew Dragon on May 27th. They’ll be the first passengers that SpaceX has ever launched into space, and they’ll also be the first people to launch to orbit from the United States since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. All of NASA’s astronauts have had to fly on Russian rockets out of Kazakhstan for nearly the last decade. But thanks to a partnership with NASA, SpaceX is set to start launching the agency’s astronauts from Florida once again with the Crew Dragon, beginning with Behnken and Hurley.

This afternoon, Behnken and Hurley will touch down on the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, a week before they board the Crew Dragon and blast off to the International Space Station. The duo has been preparing for this moment since NASA assigned them to this mission in 2018. To train, they’ve been traveling back and forth from their home bases in Houston near NASA’s Johnson Space Center to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Both have flown on the Space Shuttle twice before, and together they have spent nearly 1,400 hours in space.

“Training for a vehicle has its similarities, whether it’s an airplane, a car. Obviously, it’s a little easier to drive a car than maybe a spaceship,” Behnken told The Verge last year. “But I mean, you’re learning the systems, you’re learning how to interact with the vehicle, and then you’re also learning to deal with malfunctions if they occur. You’re learning how to live with that vehicle in space.”

The difference is that, unlike the government-made Shuttle, this is a mostly private spacecraft. And that’s meant adjusting to a new way of doing things.

 

A graphic of astronaut Douglas Hurley made to look like the front of a trading card

 

 

 

Pre-astronaut training: Colonel, US Marine Corps, Bachelor of Science in civil engineering, More than 5,500 flight hours in more 25 different aircraft Astronaut since: 2000 Spaceflight experience: STS-127 Space Shuttle Endeavour, July 15th to July 31st, 2009 International Space Station Assembly Mission STS-135 Space Shuttle Atlantis July 8th to July 21st, 2011 Hours in space: 683 Position on SpaceX launch: Spacecraft commander

 

 

For one, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon sports a much different style and aesthetic compared to the Space Shuttle. In the place of a console filled with buttons, switches, and joysticks are glossy touchscreens and minimal architecture. At Hawthorne, Behnken and Hurley have been practicing how to interact with the Crew Dragon’s sleek interior while suited up in SpaceX’s custom space suits, with gloves that are capable of controlling the Crew Dragon’s touchscreens. They’ve learned how to fly the Crew Dragon manually with just the screens, though the vehicle is designed to fly on its own with minimal input from its passengers.

It was a weird transition at first. “Growing up as a pilot, my whole career, having a certain way to control the vehicle, this is certainly different,” Hurley said during a press conference. “But you know, we went into it with a very open mind, I think, and worked with them to kind of refine the way that you interface with it.” He added: “It was challenging, I think, for us and for them at first to kind of work through all those different design issues. But we got to a point where the vehicle from a manual flying standpoint with the touchscreen applies very well.”

But the new style has its benefits. Behnken and Hurley have given SpaceX their inputs on design and procedural changes that they think should be made, and SpaceX has obliged — quickly.

“The thing that I have seen that’s different is that when we did Shuttle things, we would say, ‘Hey, I keep screwing up this procedure. Can we change the procedure so no one screws it up ever again?’ Hurley told The Verge last year. “That would be really hard. ‘We’ve got to talk to 100 people and figure all that out.’ Here, when we need to change something, they can turn on a dime and get it [done] for the next mission or the next simulation that we go off and do. That’s really been appreciated, just how quickly they were able to turn around differences for what we’d like to see from simulation to simulation.”

 

A graphic of astronaut Robert Behnken made to look like the front of a trading card

 

 

 

Pre-astronaut training: Colonel, US Air Force Doctorate in mechanical engineering More than 1,500 flight hours on 25 different aircraft Astronaut since: 2000 Spaceflight experience: STS-123 Space Shuttle Endeavour March 11th to March 26th, 2008 25th International Space Station Assembly Mission STS-130 Space Shuttle Endeavour February 8th to February 21st, 2010 32nd International Space Station Assembly Mission Hours in space: 708  Position on SpaceX launch: Joint operations commander

 

 

An invaluable part of their training is the fact that Behnken and Hurley have been good friends since they were first selected to be astronauts in 2000. In fact, they became so close that they were in each other’s weddings when they each married fellow astronauts from that same class. They claim that their friendship provides a certain level of trust that only comes from years of knowing one another.

“We’ve worked together so long that there’s a part of the training that we don’t have to worry about,” Behnken told The Verge last year, adding, “It is important for us. I already know what Doug’s responses are going to be in a lot of different situations. I know if he’s ahead or behind on whatever we’re working on, in the same way that he knows that about me. That makes it a lot easier. Those aren’t extra words I need to put into the communication. He can just glance at me and know what my status is.”

Though the two astronauts are certain of each other, the time leading up to this launch has been less than certain. The target date for this flight has been in flux over the last couple of years, as SpaceX has experienced technical issues and delays that have pushed back the launch date. The two astronauts have been waiting along with much of the public to figure out when they would fly. “Our job is to be ready when a launch date turns up,” Behnken said during a press conference in January. “And so we’ll do our best to be sure that we are ready and [we’ve done] all we can for that date.”


The Verge’s profile of Behnken and Hurley during training in early 2019.

Now, it’s also unclear when they’ll come home. Originally, this trip was supposed to last just a week or two. It’s a test, after all, meant to demonstrate all of the crucial features of the Crew Dragon with passengers on board. But because of delays getting to this point, NASA needs Behnken and Hurley to remain on the station for maybe a few months when they arrive. In preparation for the Crew Dragon to start flying, NASA started to ease up on buying seats for its astronauts on Russia’s Soyuz rocket. But when delays continued with the Crew Dragon program, NASA’s presence on the station began to dwindle, and there is just one NASA astronaut living on the space station at the moment. So NASA made the decision to extend this mission so that the agency can have a larger crew to maintain the ISS.

NASA will decide when Behnken and Hurley will return home once they’re already on board. Since both of them are married to astronauts, they say their families are used to such uncertainty. “My wife … she’s also an astronaut and understands a lot of what I’m going through,” Hurley told The Verge this month. “She spent six months on [the] space station when our son was three years old. So it certainly is not completely foreign to us. And I think, you know, she’s somebody who understands that these things change.”

The astronauts also acknowledge how weird it is to launch during this time of uncertainty for everyone, but they know the flight has to move forward.

“It’s been a long road to get here, and I don’t think either one of us would have predicted that when we were ready to go fly this mission that we would be dealing with this as well. But we just want everybody to be safe,” Hurley said during a press conference. “We want everybody to enjoy this and relish this moment in US space history, but the biggest thing is, we want everyone to just be safe and enjoy it from distance.”

Source: – The Verge

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Edited By Harry Miller

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Russian space agency calls Trump's reaction to SpaceX launch… – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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* NASA resumed human spaceflight on Saturday after hiatus

* Move ended Russian monopoly on flights to space station

* Moscow welcomes move, but queries Trump’s reaction

By Maria Kiselyova and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW, May 31 (Reuters) – Russia’s space agency criticised U.S. President Donald Trump’s “hysteria” about the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years, but also said on Sunday it was pleased there was now another way to travel into space.

SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, on Saturday launched two Americans into orbit from Florida en route to the International Space Station (ISS), a landmark mission that ended Russia’s monopoly on flights there.

Trump, who observed the launch, said the United States had regained its place as the world’s leader in space, that U.S. astronauts would soon land on Mars, and that Washington would soon have “the greatest weapons ever imagined in history.”

NASA had had to rely on Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, to get to the ISS since its final space shuttle flight in 2011, and Trump hailed what he said was the end of being at the mercy of foreign nations.

The U.S. success will potentially deprive Roscosmos, which has suffered corruption scandals and a number of malfunctions, of the lucrative fees it charged to take U.S. astronauts to the ISS.

“The hysteria raised after the successful launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft is hard to understand,” Vladimir Ustimenko, spokesman for Roscosmos, wrote on Twitter after citing Trump’s statement.

“What has happened should have happened long ago. Now it’s not only the Russians flying to the ISS, but also the Americans. Well that’s wonderful!”

Moscow has said previously that it is also deeply worried about what it fears are U.S. plans to deploy weapons in space.

Moscow would not be sitting idly by, Ustimenko said.

“..We are not going to rest on our laurels either. We will test two new rockets this year, and next year we will resume our lunar programme. It will be interesting,” said Ustimenko. (Editing by Susan Fenton)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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After Dragon's historic docking, America has more new spaceships on the way – Ars Technica

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SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft made history for the second time on Sunday.

On May 25, 2012, a Cargo Dragon was grabbed by the ISS. It became the first private spacecraft to visit the International Space Station. On Sunday, when Dragonship Endeavour docked with the station 15 minutes ahead of schedule, above the border of China and Mongolia, it became the first private spacecraft to fly crew there (or anywhere in orbit, for that matter).

After the docking, the spacecraft’s commander, NASA Astronaut Doug Hurley, was complimentary after he and Bob Behnken spent some time flying Dragon manually. “It flew just about like the sim, so my congratulations to the folks at Hawthorne,” he said, referring to SpaceX’s headquarters in California, where the astronauts spent many weeks practicing in a flight simulator. “It flew really well, very crisp. We couldn’t be happier about the performance of the vehicle.”

This bodes well for NASA, which is counting on the Crew Dragon vehicle to begin ferrying four-person crews to the International Space Station as soon as the end of August. Endeavour will now remain attached to the station for several weeks at least, depending on the performance of its solar panels in orbit. NASA would like the crew to remain on orbit for as much as three months, to conduct several spacewalks for space station maintenance.

Dragon’s flight will be declared a success only when Hurley and Behnken strap back into Endeavour, return through Earth’s atmosphere, and splash down safely in the ocean. This will complete the first crewed flight of a new orbital vehicle to launch from the United States since 1981. But it is very likely not the last. As many as four more vehicles may follow in the future.

Here’s a look at the status of each, with an estimate of when the vehicle will fly with humans for the first time.

Starliner (1-2 years)

As part of the commercial crew program, NASA paid SpaceX (Crew Dragon) and Boeing (Starliner) to develop spacecraft to carry humans to the space station and back. Boeing completed an aborted, uncrewed test flight of its Starliner vehicle in December, but the spacecraft was nearly lost on two occasions due to software issues.

Boeing has agreed to make a second test flight of Starliner, without astronauts, to ensure the safety of the spacecraft and demonstrate its capability of docking with the space station. This flight could occur by the end of 2020, and with about six months of data review, it’s possible a crewed mission could take place a year from now. But that would require nearly flawless execution—and as long as Dragon is flying safely NASA has no reason to rush a back-up provider along.

Orion (3-4 years)

NASA’s large deep space capsule has been under development since 2006 and made an uncrewed test flight in 2014 to demonstrate its ability to return at high velocity. Since then development has continued, but the capsule has largely been waiting for Boeing to complete the core stage of the Space Launch System rocket. When that rocket is ready, it is due to launch another uncrewed Orion on the Artemis I mission in late 2021 or 2022.

Only after this flight will NASA fully outfit Orion with life support for the Artemis II mission, which will carry a crew of astronauts around the Moon. Sometime in 2023 is probably the earliest reasonable expectation for this mission to take place.

Starship (4-8 years)

SpaceX is making progress on development and testing of its Starship vehicle (Friday’s fiery explosion, not withstanding). Eventually, this large vehicle will come in two basic forms, a cargo variant for payloads, and a crew vehicle that can take humans to the Moon, Mars, or elsewhere.

Starship timelines are always aspirational, but SpaceX does move fast, and it has built a factory in South Texas that should allow for accelerated production. Although the company has learned a lot about human spaceflight from its Crew Dragon experience, developing a complex vehicle like Starship will still take time. Our estimate of four to eight years is a blend between optimistic SpaceX schedules and the magnitude of the challenge the company faces.

Dream Chaser (5-10 years)

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser was originally part of the pool of candidates NASA considered in the commercial crew program before the space agency opted for Dragon and Starliner. However, NASA is still funding a cargo variant of the vehicle to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. The vehicle could make its first launch on a Vulcan rocket by the end of 2021 or in 2022.

Meanwhile, the company says it remains committed to developing a crew version of Dream Chaser. It is not clear whether NASA will fund this, as the space agency has its low-Earth needs accounted for with Dragon and Starliner. There is a lot of public desire to see a winged vehicle like Dream Chaser, which evokes memories of the space shuttle, enter service. But it is not clear there is a commercial or government customer to support it at this time.

Listing image by NASA TV

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SpaceX Crew Dragon chalks up picture-perfect docking at International Space Station – CBS News

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Nineteen hours after a spectacular Florida launch, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule caught up with the International Space Station early Sunday and glided in for a problem-free docking, bringing veteran astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the outpost in SpaceX’s first piloted space flight.

The historic mission marks a major milestone in NASA’s push to end the agency’s sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft for carrying astronauts to and from the lab complex, the first piloted launch to orbit by a privately owned and operated spacecraft since the dawn of the space age.

The Crew Dragon capsule on final approach to the International Space Station.

NASA TV


“Welcome to Bob and Doug,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said to the crew in a call from mission control at the Johnson Space Center. “The whole world saw this mission, and we are so, so proud of everything you’ve done for our country and, in fact, to inspire the world.”

“We sure appreciate that, sir,” Hurley replied, floating in the space station’s Harmony module, flanked by crewmate Behnken, space station commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

“It’s obviously been our honor to be just a small part of this,” he said. “We have to give credit to SpaceX, the Commercial Crew Program and, of course, NASA. It’s great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business, and we’re just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex.”

Following a picture-perfect climb to space Saturday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Hurley and Behnken monitored an automated rendezvous with the station Sunday, approaching the lab complex from behind and below.

Executing a precise series of thruster firings, the Crew Dragon looped up to a point directly in front of the station and lined up on the lab’s forward docking port, the same one once used by visiting space shuttles.

Hurley, a former Marine test pilot, briefly took over manual control, firing thrusters by tapping high-tech touch-screen cockpit displays to verify a crew’s ability to fly the spacecraft by hand if needed.

The ship’s flight computer than resumed the approach and the Crew Dragon’s docking mechanism engaged its counterpart on the space station at 10:16 a.m. ET, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. A few minutes later, the capsule was pulled in and locked in place by 12 motorized latches.

053120-crew3.jpg
The combined Expedition 63 crew, back row, L-R: cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, space station commander Chris Cassidy, cosmonaut Ivan Vagner; front row, L-R: Crew Dragon joint operations commander Robert Behnken and vehicle commander Douglas Hurley. The American flag on the hatch above the astronauts first flew in space on the shuttle Columbia’s maiden flight in 1981; it was left aboard the station by Hurley and his Atlantis crewmates during the last shuttle mission in 2011. Hurley and Behnken plan to bring the flag home at the end of their current mission.

NASA TV


Cassidy, a former Navy SEAL, followed naval tradition and rang the ship’s bell aboard the station to announce the Crew Dragon’s arrival.

“Dragon, arriving,” he said. “The crew of Expedition 63 is honored to welcome Dragon and the Commercial Crew Program to … the International Space Station. Bob and Doug, glad to have you as part of the crew. Well done. Bravo zulu.”

“We here at SpaceX are honored to have been part of ushering in this new era of human spaceflight,” said Anna Menon, the spacecraft communicator at SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, control center. “On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA partnership, congratulations on a phenomenal accomplishment. And welcome to the International Space Station.”

During the post-docking welcome aboard ceremony, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas asked the Crew Dragon astronauts “how does she handle?”

“It flew just like it was supposed to,” Hurley said. “We had a couple of opportunities to take it out for a spin, so to speak (flying manually), and my compliments to the folks back at Hawthorne and SpaceX for how well it flew. It’s exactly like the simulator, and we couldn’t be happier about the performance of the vehicle.”

053120-cockpit.jpg
A camera mounted in the Crew Dragon capsule looks over the shoulders of astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken, right, showing the ship’s high-tech touchscreen displays in the moments after docking with the International Space Station.

NASA TV


Representative Brian Babin, a Texas Republican who represents the Johnson Space Center, asked the astronauts to describe their impressions of launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

Behnken, who flew twice aboard the space shuttle, recalled a fairly rough ride on the orbit while its two solid-fuel boosters were firing, but a smooth ascent after that with the shuttle’s three liquid-fueled engines.

He and Hurley expected the Falcon 9 ride to smooth out after the rocket’s first stage, powered by nine engines and generating 1.7 million pounds of thrust, was jettisoned about two-and-a-half minutes into flight. The Falcon’s second stage is powered by a single engine.

“We were surprised a little bit by how smooth things were off the pad,” Behnken said. “The space shuttle was a pretty rough ride heading into orbit with the solid rocket boosters, and our expectation was as we continued with (our) flight into second stage, that things would basically get a lot smoother than the space shuttle.

“But Dragon was huffin’ and puffin’ all the way into orbit, and we were definitely riding a Dragon all the way up,” he said. “So it was not quite the same ride, the smooth ride as the space shuttle was up to MECO [main engine cutoff], a little bit less Gs but a little bit more ‘alive’ is probably the best way I could describe it.”

The Crew Dragon is expected to remain docked to the station for six weeks to four months, allowing Behnken and Hurley to help Cassidy with a full slate of NASA and partner agency research and, possibly, with one or more spacewalks to install new solar array batteries and complete installation of a European experiment platform.

SpaceX Falcon-9 Rocket And Crew Dragon Capsule Launches From Cape Canaveral Sending Astronauts To The International Space Station
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, right, and Doug Hurley give a thumbs-up on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on May 30, 2020.

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Cassidy said he looked forward to the help.

“We’ve got a few things to take care of tonight, make sure we’re all safe and we know the plan in case something bad happens,” he said, referring to a standard emergency briefing given to all newly arrived crew members.

“And then we’re looking forward to some operational stuff later in the month, maybe we’ll get outside and do some spacewalks. So we’re all super excited to have two more crewmates to the Expedition 63 team.”

NASA originally planned a short one-week to 10-day test flight for the first piloted Crew Dragon. But delays in the agency’s Commercial Crew Program and scaled-back production of Russian Soyuz spacecraft forced NASA to reduce the lab’s U.S. and partner agency crew to just one — Cassidy.

NASA managers are holding off on making a decision on when the Crew Dragon will return to Earth until they get a better idea of how atomic oxygen in the extreme upper atmosphere might affect the capsule’s solar cells.

No matter how that works out, engineers want time to thoroughly evaluate the capsule’s performance before proceeding with the first operational flight. NASA and SpaceX hope to launch that flight, carrying an international three-man one-woman crew, in the late August timeframe.

SpaceX and NASA successfully launch two astronauts into space

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