spaceSpace and Physics

It’s The Final Countdown For Launch Of First Crewed Mission From US Soil In A Decade


NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken (right) on Saturday's dress rehearsal, ahead of their scheduled launch onboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket on  Wednesday. NASA/Bill Ingalls

In less than 24 hours, astronauts are scheduled to soar to space from US soil for the first time since the last Space Shuttle departed almost a decade ago. But before every great performance, there has to be a dress rehearsal, and on Saturday, May 23, a dry-run for Wednesday’s launch was carried out for all launch personnel at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley began the walk-through in the Astronaut Crew Quarters located inside Kennedy’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building. Sporting their custom-made, one-piece, two-layered SpaceX suits, they made their way to the ground level, which on the actual day will be the last chance to see their loved ones. They then boarded their transport vehicles (Tesla Model X’s) to take them to the Launch Complex 39A, around a 20-minute drive away.

The NASA astronauts departing the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building during the rehearsal. NASA/Bill Ingalls

Here, the astronauts went to the service tower lift and into SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Capsule, which has been on the launch pad since Thursday morning, May 21. After checking communications, the hatch was closed and the dress-run wrapped up with the go/no-go poll for the Falcon 9 Rocket propellant loading, which usually happens 45 minutes before launch.

Not only will Behnken and Hurley’s trip to the International Space Station (ISS), known as the Demo-2 mission, spell an end to NASA’s reliance on Russia and its Soyuz rockets to transport its crew into orbit, but it will also be the first-ever crewed mission by a private company. SpaceX have made sure that everything from the spacesuits to the rocket ships are dressed for the occasion – styled in all white with a black trim.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket arrived at Launch Complex 39A last Thursday. NASA/Bill Ingalls

“SpaceX has gone all out” on the capsule's appearance, Hurley told The Associated Press, who has been in pre-flight quarantine for almost two weeks. “And they've worked equally as hard to make the innards and the displays and everything else in the vehicle work to perfection.”

Hurley and Behnken’s Tesla ride to the launch pad is also poles apart from the Shuttle-era Astrovan, which even Hurley’s son was impressed with. “It is really neat, and I think the biggest testament to that is my 10-year-old son telling me how cool I am now,” Hurley said.

Hurley's son is not wrong - the NASA astronauts look cool on their way into the spacecraft. NASA/Joel Kowsky

Their all-white spacesuits are also a far cry from the bright orange ascent and entry suits worn by shuttle astronauts. NASA’s retro “worm logo” has also made a comeback on the suits in place of the bulkier “meatball” one which has been the company’s primary symbol since 1992.

Currently, the launch is scheduled for Wednesday, May 27, at 4.33pm EDT (9.33pm BST), however the weather could put a dampener on this date. Citing extensive cloudiness, rain showers, and isolated thunderstorms, the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron are predicting only a 40 percent chance of favorable weather conditions on launch day. If deemed unsafe for take-off, alternative launch windows are proposed for Saturday, May 30, at 3.22 pm EDT (8.22 pm BST), and on Sunday, May 31, at 3.00 pm EDT (8.00 pm BST).



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