NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission is cleared to proceed toward liftoff on the first crewed flight of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, NASA and SpaceX officials said following a successful Flight Readiness Review concluded Friday at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station. Liftoff is planned for 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, May 27, from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy.
“The Flight Readiness Review is complete; we have another milestone under our belts,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a briefing after the review concluded. “I think everybody in the room was very clear that now is the time to speak up if there are any challenges. And there were some conversations that were very important to be had. But it’s also true that at the end, as each system and subsystem was considered, we got to a ‘go.’ So we are now preparing for a launch in five short days.”
“I knew going in that the team was ready, and they absolutely demonstrated that during the review,” said NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk. “There are no significant open issues, I am happy to report. There’s just the planned forward work to get done.”
The flight will return human spaceflight to the International Space Station from America for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.
“I am so grateful for the NASA and SpaceX team who have dug deep and worked so hard to get us to this point,” said Kathy Lueders, manager of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
Several more important milestones are coming up prior to launch, Lueders said, but the team will remain vigilant as always.
“We’ve still got a static fire, and tomorrow we’ve got the dry dress — the last run-through with the crew to make sure we’re ready for launch — and then the final Launch Readiness Review on Monday,” she said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time, and fly when we’re ready.”
Norm Knight, deputy director of NASA Johnson Space Center Flight Operations, weighed in with the crew perspective, referring to the review as “fantastic.”
“We’re satisfied with the discussions that were had, the thoroughness, and the readiness of those coming in and having the necessary discussions to assure that Doug and Bob are safe,” Knight said.
Demo-2 will be SpaceX’s final test flight to validate its crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, launch pad and operations capabilities. During the mission, the crew and SpaceX mission controllers will verify the performance of the spacecraft’s environmental control system, displays and control system, maneuvering thrusters, autonomous docking capability, and more.
The length of the Demo-2 mission will be determined after Behnken and Hurley arrive at the station, depending on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch.
Behnken and Hurley will join the Expedition 63 crew on the station to conduct important research as well as support station operations and maintenance. While docked to the station, the crew will run tests to ensure the Crew Dragon spacecraft is capable of remaining connected to the station for up to 210 days on future missions.
Aboard the space station, the resident crew — astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — are looking forward to welcoming Behnken and Hurley to the orbiting laboratory.
“I had the chance to talk to the on-orbit crew — Chris, Ivan, Anatoly — on Wednesday, just a few minutes before I left to come down here to the Kennedy Space Center,” said Kirk Shireman, manager of the agency’s International Space Station Program. “I can tell you those guys are very focused, very excited, and are preparing for having Bob and Doug arrive on orbit.”
SpaceX sees its duty to carry the Demo-2 crew to the space station and back to Earth as both a responsibility and a sacred honor, according to Benji Reed, the company’s director of crew mission management.
“It is so incredible being here at Kennedy Space Center — the home of launching astronauts from American soil on American vehicles. And we get to do it again in just five days,” Reed said. “So on behalf of all the teams working Dragon, Falcon, and hardware and software teams, and everybody in our factory, all the way to our operations groups — we are honored that NASA has trusted us with this endeavor, and that Bob and Doug trust us.”
Bridenstine acknowledged how unusual it is to carry out such a historic mission at this time, with additional precautions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are different times, but it is also a time when we need to be doing amazing things as a nation, and inspiring the entire world,” he said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”