SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft is less than two weeks from launching NASA astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time, but some big obstacles still stand in the way.
With this SpaceX mission, known as Demo-2, veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on May 27. The historic launch will be the first crewed launch from the United States to orbit since NASA's space shuttle program ended in 2011.
But, while this spaceflight milestone is just around the corner, "there's still work to be done," Phil McAlister, director of the commercial spaceflight division at NASA Headquarters, said today (May 14).
"We are still finishing up some final testing, there are still some documents we have to review," McAlister told members of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee, which is part of the NASA's Advisory Council. "Even though we're 13 days [away], there's still work to be done."
While the astronauts are set to launch to space in less than two weeks and have already entered the standard preflight quarantine, "we are still finishing off some final testing," McAlister said. He did not specify whether this final testing was additional simulation training with the astronauts or testing with the vehicle itself.
One of the biggest hurdles yet to overcome for this mission is the last flight readiness review (FRR), which is currently scheduled for May 21.
The review, which is chaired by Doug Loverro, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, will "see if we are ready for flight," McAlister said. The FRR will be "one last time to say whether we are ready for flight," he added.
Before the FRR is completed, however, NASA still also has to review some documentation and complete a couple of program control boards, he added.
Teams at both NASA and SpaceX will continue working with additional precautions to prevent any health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the standard quarantine for the astronauts, both SpaceX and NASA will be ensuring that only personnel who are under quarantine protocol will be interacting with the crew.
These last steps during the "home stretch" to launch are critical steps and are designed to ensure the safety of the crew and the success of the mission, McAlister noted.
While noting the importance of success with final testing and these last few steps, McAlister commended the success of SpaceX's testing leading up to this launch, citing the company's in-flight abort test and dry dress activity (a "dress rehearsal" during which the astronauts simulate actions like being recovered in a capsule after an abort and splashdown).
"This was a very, very challenging test and I was very, very pleased," McAlister said. "I'm really looking forward to this mission."
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