NASA and 'Kerbal Space Program' challenge gamers to recreate historic SpaceX launch to space station

The mission profile for SpaceX's Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station launching astronauts on May 27, 2020.
The mission profile for SpaceX's Demo-2 Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station launching astronauts on May 27, 2020. (Image credit: SpaceX)

It's safe to say NASA is pumped up for SpaceX's historic Crew Dragon launch. After all, the planned May 27 liftoff will mark the first time American astronauts will launch to the International Space Station from U.S. soil on an American spacecraft since 2011. 

To mark that event, NASA and Private Division — folks behind the upcoming space game "Kerbal Space Program 2" — are looking for gamers with the right stuff. The challenge: Recreate the SpaceX mission in the original "Kerbal Space Program." 

According to our friends at PC Gamer, Private Division threw down the first gauntlet on Twitter. 

"Kerbonauts, we have a mission for you!," the game publisher wrote. "We challenge you to simulate the mission and share your footage by May 25 using #LaunchAmerica. We'll show NASA the best ones to see what they think!"

Related: In photos: SpaceX's historic Demo-2 test flight with astronauts

Kerbal Space Program | $36.79 (Save 8%)

Kerbal Space Program | $36.79 (Save 8%)
Recreate SpaceX's Demo-2 or just watch your creations explode in the pursuit of the Mun and beyond in this space exploration game.

Then NASA joined the challenge. 

"We love a good challenge," NASA wrote on Twitter. "Kerbonauts, show us your skills!"

As Private Division stated above, the deadline to enter is May 25 and players should use the hashtag #LaunchAmerica to submit their entries. Details of SpaceX's Demo-2 mission are available on NASA's mission page here.

NASA's 'Ride to Station Challenge'

NASA is also running a STEM contest of its own for the Demo-2 mission. The agency's "Ride to Station Challenge" calls on kids to build a virtual version of the mission using the agency's Rocket Science: Ride to Station App

To enter, kids need to start a mission by completing the Ride to Station app (where they'll select a crew, build a rocket and launch), then visit NASA's Crew Orbital Docking Simulation to create a space capsule docking game. Finally, kids can share a screenshot of the CODing Sim on social media with the hashtag #LaunchAmerica to enter. 

The deadline for NASA's "Ride to the Station Challenge" is May 19, with a winner to be selected on May 20. For more details on the challenge, visit NASA's website here.

SpaceX's Demo-2 decoded

SpaceX's Demo-2 mission will launch a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule to ferry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. Liftoff is set for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

More: How SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsule works (infographic)

After launch, the Falcon 9's first-stage booster will return to Earth and land on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Behkhen and Hurley will fly on to rendezvous with the space station and join three members of the outpost's current Expedition 63 crew. 

The station crew will perform a series of tests on the Crew Dragon capsule in the weeks that follow, with Behkhen and Hurley ultimately set to return to Earth and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, just off Florida's eastern coast, and be retrieved by a SpaceX recovery ship. 

The Demo-2 mission will follow a successful unpiloted Crew Dragon test flight in 2019. That mission, Demo-1, flew a mannequin named Ripley to the station in a SpaceX spacesuit. 

NASA astronauts have not launched to the space station from U.S. soil since the space agency retired its shuttle fleet in July 2011. Since then, NASA has purchased seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft to send astronauts to the station. 

SpaceX is one of two companies with multibillion-dollar contracts to launch astronauts for NASA. The other company is Boeing, which has built its own Starliner spacecraft that launches on Atlas V rockets to do the job. 

Boeing has launched one uncrewed test flight of Starliner, but has yet to reach the space station. A second uncrewed test flight is expected sometime later this year.

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'!

OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'!

For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.