Air Force One Flies Past Launch Complex 39A

Air Force One, carrying U.S. President Donald Trump, flies past Launch Complex 39A. Image credit: NASA TV

The distinctive blue-and-white Air Force One aircraft just flew near Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, affording U.S. President Trump, onboard the aircraft, a bird’s-eye view of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft on the launch pad. Sealed inside the spacecraft are NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who are awaiting a 4:33 p.m. EDT liftoff on the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station – the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American rocket from American soil in nine years.

Crew Dragon’s Hatch Confirmed Closed

SpaceX technicians in the White Room at Launch Complex 39A close the Crew Dragon's side hatch and check for leaks.
SpaceX technicians in the White Room at Launch Complex 39A close the Crew Dragon’s side hatch and check for leaks. Image credit: NASA TV

The hatch through which NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 crew members entered the Crew Dragon spacecraft has been closed and a leak check is complete.

Launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley remains scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. Teams continue to monitor weather conditions throughout the area.

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission will serve as an end-to-end flight test to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, from launch to docking to splashdown. It is the final flight test for the system to be certified for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Demo-2 Launch a Cross-Country Effort

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen at Launch Complex 39A through the windows of Firing Room Four of Kennedy's Launch Control Center during a dress rehearsal on May 23, 2020, in preparation for the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen at Launch Complex 39A through the windows of Firing Room Four of Kennedy’s Launch Control Center during a dress rehearsal on May 23, 2020, in preparation for the launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Several NASA and SpaceX teams across the country have roles in today’s launch. SpaceX’s launch team is commanding the countdown from Firing Room 4 in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center, then will transfer control to the company’s mission control center in Hawthorne, California. Meanwhile, NASA teams at Kennedy and the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are monitoring today’s activities.

Crew Seats Rotated into Launch Position

The crew’s seats have been rotated into their reclining position for launch. Clocks continue to count toward liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Benhken. Launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station is targeted for 4:33 p.m. EDT from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon: A New Ride to the Space Station

An illustration of the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
An illustration of the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is about to be taken out for the ultimate test drive to the International Space Station.

The next-generation spacecraft is fully autonomous but also can be controlled manually if needed. During the Demo-2 mission, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will validate that the spacecraft’s systems operate as expected – both autonomously and manually. Click here to see a labeled Crew Dragon illustration.

In March 2020, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company's Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participating in SpaceX's flight simulator.
In March 2020, SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, executed a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participating in SpaceX’s flight simulator. Photo credit: SpaceX

“We specifically, as part of this test flight, designed in some time in the preflight phase as well as closer to the space station so we can test out actual manual flying capability of the vehicle, just to see and verify that it handles the way we expect it to and the way the simulator shows it to fly,” Hurley said. “It’s a prudent part of our flight test, just like anything else, in case the eventuality happened for a future crew that needed to take over manually and fly spacecraft. So we’re just doing our part to test out all the different capabilities of Crew Dragon.”

The Crew Dragon has several features that set it apart from the company’s Cargo Dragon, which has made several flights to the orbiting laboratory to deliver cargo. Crew Dragon has an integrated launch escape system to carry the astronauts to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency; we’ll discuss that in more detail later in the countdown. SpaceX has completed a series of parachute tests, including several on the Mark III parachutes on today’s Crew Dragon to ensure a safe return to Earth for the crew.

Inside, the spacecraft’s life support system provides air and pressure, and maintains a comfortable temperature and humidity level. Its touchscreens have been tuned to operate with and without the SpaceX spacesuit gloves, and the control system has been thoroughly tested during the hundreds of hours of training and joint simulations with the crew in both suited and non-suited situations to demonstrate full functionality over the entire expected operating range of Crew Dragon.

Behnken and Hurley have been heavily involved in the development of the Crew Dragon and were careful to provide input that would benefit all future crews to fly aboard the spacecraft.

“We’ve tried very hard to not make it a vehicle that just Bob likes, or just Doug likes; this is a vehicle for everybody after us who’s going to fly it,” Behnken said. “You’re trying to make a vehicle that is easy to operate in space, easy to interpret what it’s telling you, easy to get in and get out of, all those things that you need to do that need to be well-oiled for a space vehicle.”

Astronauts Verify Communications

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 crew members Douglas Hurley, foreground, and Robert Behnken, inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at Launch Complex 39A. Image credit: NASA TV

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are beginning a series of communications checks – “comm checks” – with various key members of the launch and mission teams, including SpaceX Launch Director Mike Taylor and Chief Engineer Bala Ramamurthy, both in Firing Room 4 in Kennedy’s Launch Control Center; and the SpaceX Crew Operations and Resources Engineer (CORE).

There will be several COREs communicating with the crew throughout the mission, including Jay Aranha, SpaceX CORE for ingress and ascent; Anna Menon, SpaceX CORE for Crew Dragon’s approach to and departure from the International Space Station; Laura Crabtree, the CORE for free flight; and Mike Heiman, the SpaceX CORE for the crew’s return to Earth. The CORE engineers are located at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California.

Crew Members Climb Aboard Crew Dragon

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 crew members Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft at Launch Complex 39A. Image credit: NASA TV

NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 crew is now onboard!

Demo-2 spacecraft commander Douglas Hurley entered the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft first, followed shortly after by Demo-2 joint operations commander Robert Behnken, who sits to Hurley’s right. SpaceX technicians are helping them get situated and buckled in.

As the astronauts board, their seats are configured in the upright position; later, prior to closure of the spacecraft’s side hatch, the seats will be rotated into a reclined position for flight.

During their time in the White Room – a sealed, clean space that prevents humidity or contaminants from getting into the spacecraft while the hatch is open – the astronauts paused to sign the wall above a NASA logo.

Crew Arrives at Launch Complex 39A

NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 crew arrives at the base of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy's Launch Complex 39A.
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 crew arrives at the base of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A. Image credit: NASA TV
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley on Launch Complex 39A before boarding the SpaceX Crew Dragon atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket, May 27, 2020.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley on Launch Complex 39A before boarding the SpaceX Crew Dragon atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, May 27, 2020. Image credit: NASA TV

In the next several minutes, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will take the elevator up to the 255-foot level of the fixed service structure, then take a short flight of stairs to the crew access level, where they will cross the crew access arm – the walkway from the fixed service structure over to the White Room and the waiting SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Historic Launch Complex 39A

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft stand on Launch Complex 39A on May 27, 2020.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft stand on Launch Complex 39A on May 27, 2020. Image credit: NASA TV
In this photo taken March 3, 2010, space shuttle Discovery has just arrived at Launch Complex 39A for the STS-131 mission.
In this photo taken March 3, 2010, space shuttle Discovery has just arrived at Launch Complex 39A for the STS-131 mission. The center structure, topped by the lightning mast, is the fixed service structure; the rotating service structure is at left. SpaceX has modified and upgraded the pad to support its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Photo credit: NASA

Today’s launch of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission will kick off a new chapter for Launch Complex 39A.

This was the launch site for 11 Apollo/Saturn V missions, including Apollo 11, which carried the first astronauts to land on the Moon. The pad also was the launch site for 82 space shuttle missions, including STS-1, the first shuttle launch; the STS-125 final servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope; STS-135, the final shuttle mission; and many more throughout the program’s 30-year span.

The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, from Kennedy's Launch Complex 39A.
The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. at 9:32 a.m. EDT on July 16, 1969, from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A. Photo credit: NASA

After the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA began the process to transform Kennedy Space Center from a historically government-only launch facility into a multi-user spaceport for both government and commercial use. On April 14, 2014, the agency signed a property agreement with SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, for use of the launch site for the next 20 years. SpaceX upgraded and modified the launch pad to support its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The company also built a horizontal processing hangar at the base of the pad to perform final vehicle integration prior to flight.

Because of NASA’s partnership with SpaceX within the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, Launch Complex 39A will once again be the site of crewed missions to the space station.

 

Astronauts on Way to Launch Pad 39A

A Tesla with a tag that reads “ISSBND” is photographed at historic Launch Complex 39A during a dress rehearsal for launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2020, ahead of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station.
A Tesla with a tag that reads “ISSBND” is photographed at historic Launch Complex 39A during a dress rehearsal for launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2020, ahead of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: Kim Shiflett

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are on their way to Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A after departing the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building across the spaceport.

There to see them off were Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, along with their family, friends and support team members.

Then they climbed into a customized white Tesla Model X for the 20-minute ride to the pad. The crew’s vehicle is traveling in the middle of a convoy including support team members and security personnel.

At the launch site, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are ready for the crew’s arrival.