SpaceX:Crew’s thought about the launch!
It’s not a total victory yet. Behnken and Hurley will spend the next 19 hours in orbit and try to get some sleep before tomorrow’s next big event: docking with the space station. And they need their sleep, too. SpaceX and NASA had originally hoped to launch on Wednesday, May 27th, prompting the astronauts to go through the entire pre-launch process. But bad weather forced a delay to today. “Bob and Doug, who have now gone through this exercise twice, they need to get some rest,” Bridenstine said after the launch. “But I can guarantee you there will be no rest for a good amount of time while they’re up there in orbit.”
The Crew Dragon is designed to automatically dock with the ISS without the need for any input from the crew, though the two astronauts will try their hand at manually flying the capsule with its touchscreen monitor controls when they approach the station. After testing out that interface, the astronauts will relinquish control to the Crew Dragon, which will attempt to automatically approach the station and latch itself to an available docking port. Docking is scheduled to take place around 10:29AM ET on Sunday.
The two astronauts also have to come home eventually and test the Crew Dragon’s ability to return humans safely to Earth. NASA hasn’t decided when the pair will head home; it’ll be sometime between the next six and 16 weeks. When that decision is made, Behnken and Hurley will climb back into their Crew Dragon capsule and begin the intense journey back through our planet’s atmosphere. The Crew Dragon is equipped with a heat shield to protect the astronauts from the fiery descent, and the capsule has a suite of four parachutes designed to open and gently lower the vehicle into the Atlantic Ocean. After splashdown, a SpaceX recovery boat will greet the crew and take them and their capsule back to shore.
At that point is when the mission will be deemed a success. “I am not going to celebrate until Bob and Doug are home safely,” Bridenstine said.
A lot is riding on this mission, but if all goes well, the flight could serve as merely the beginning of SpaceX’s journey into human spaceflight. NASA plans to use data collected from this mission to certify the Crew Dragon to perform regular trips to and from the International Space Station with astronauts on board. SpaceX and NASA are already targeting August 30th for the company’s next Crew Dragon flight, which will transport four astronauts: NASA’s Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Shannon Walker, as well as Japan’s Soichi Noguchi. That means we could be soon entering a new era where private companies are the ones routinely taking people to low Earth orbit.
SpaceX’s ambitions don’t stop there. The company is currently working on a new monster rocket called Starship, which may one day take humans to deep space destinations like the Moon and Mars. There are plenty of hurdles between that bold vision and reality, but today’s success is a step in the right direction for a company aiming to take people deeper into the cosmos.
“Everything in our trajectory is towards that particular moment to launch people on a spaceship,” Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, said during a press conference. “And it’s a huge step.”