NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have now entered pre-flight quarantine and will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) at the end of the month. This is a routine procedure in preparation for a space launch. What’s not routine is the location where the two are launching from. Behnken and Hurley will be the first astronauts in nine years to launch from American soil.
They are currently expected to launch on Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33pm local time from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. They are the first astronauts to travel on the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule via NASA's Commercial Crew Program. The last time astronauts went to space from US soil was on July 8, 2011, on the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The period of quarantine is known as the “flight crew health stabilization” and is done to make sure astronauts do not bring potential pathogens with them to space. When the two arrive there, they will meet the three current residents of the ISS: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
The quarantine procedures have been in place since the Apollo Program. But given the current Covid-19 pandemic, extra measures are in place to make sure anyone who comes in contact with the crew is thoroughly tested for the virus.
Demo 2, as the mission is christened, is the start of a new approach for humans to access low-Earth orbit. NASA selected SpaceX and Boing in September 2014 to transport crew to and from the ISS, allowing the agency to focus on deep-space missions, such as a return to the Moon in 2024.
Apart from Behnken and Hurley, seven other astronauts are currently working with the two private companies by training to operate the spacecraft, testing out new spacesuits, and practicing regular astronaut training procedures. This includes learning about extravehicular activities, the upkeep of the space station, and how to conduct the many scientific experiments constantly running on the ISS.
Reaching the milestone of having American astronauts launched from American soil was fraught with delays and safety concerns regarding the capsules, but after many successful tests, it's almost here.