On April 17, NASA and SpaceX announced that the upcoming flight test of the new Crew Dragon spacecraft with our astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley is now scheduled for lift off no earlier than 4:32 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 27. The launch of the Demo-2 mission will take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Have no doubt about it: I am looking forward to the launch. It will be historic and momentous. It also is critically important.
The Crew Dragon’s destination is the International Space Station. For almost 20 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. This unique laboratory in space has hosted more than 2,800 research investigations from scientists spanning 108 countries and areas, enabling us to prepare to land the first woman and next man on the Moon under the Artemis program and prepare for the human exploration of Mars. As a global endeavor, 239 people from 19 countries have visited the space station.
The station’s design requires humans living aboard to maintain it, operate it, and upgrade it; thus, International Space Station operations, including commercial resupply and commercial crew, are essential to the mission. A full crew is vital to safely maintain the station, both internally and externally, and continue the important research work that enables us to move human exploration farther into our solar system. To maximize our use of the station with the science we can conduct, we need four crew members operating in the U.S. segment of the station. When we have achieved that, we’ve been able to exceed 100 hours of research time in a week. Certification of the spaceflight systems of our Commercial Crew providers Boeing and SpaceX is critical to our ability to sustain a full crew and maximize our use of this singular national and global resource.
We currently are supporting the station with the bare minimum – only one NASA astronaut is aboard for Expedition 63, Chris Cassidy. As a result, we have extended the planned length of the Demo-2 mission from a standard test flight to ensure Behnken and Hurley can participate as Expedition 63 crew members to safely maintain and operate the station. Among the work that will await their arrival is upgrading the space station’s power system with new batteries due to arrive in May aboard the H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) cargo spacecraft launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Without the presence of Behnken and Hurley, we otherwise would likely defer such an operation until additional NASA crew members are available.
As the final flight test for SpaceX, the Demo-2 mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit. Certifying the Crew Dragon and Falcon 9 for the operational rotation of space station crew members is critical to our continued and ongoing use of this invaluable asset that is important not only to the United States but also to our international partners across the globe.
NASA is committed to fulfilling its obligations to the station’s international partners as we work to return human spaceflight capability to American soil. Our commercial crew providers are in the final stages of development and testing of new human space transportation systems. To ensure the agency keeps its commitment for safe operations via a continuous U.S. presence aboard the International Space Station until these new capabilities are routinely available, NASA is in negotiations with the State Space Corporation Roscosmos to purchase one additional Soyuz seat for a launch this fall. NASA’s contract with Roscosmos will meet the recommendations of several advisory committees including the GAO, NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel and the NASA Office of the Inspector General.
As the workforce personnel essential to supporting this launch and the Demo-2 mission and the International Space Station operations continue to work, I want to assure you we are taking the necessary steps to protect and care for the NASA and SpaceX teams. NASA is closely adhering to the CDC’s recommendations on infection control for the coronavirus. Behnken and Hurley will be quarantined for two weeks prior to their launch, and we are conducting our Demo-2 preview briefings today with all media participating remotely. The safety of our workforce is our top priority. We will not ask employees and contractors to perform work if we do not have the highest confidence that it is safe to do so.
We of course wish circumstances would allow us to open the gates at Kennedy Space Center to those who want to be there on launch day – nevertheless, we are working to enable the world to join us virtually for this incredible moment and essential mission.