The Dragon spacecraft that will fly SpaceX's first-ever mission with astronauts on board has reached its Florida launch site ahead of a historic liftoff next week.
The Crew Dragon capsule arrived at Launch Complex 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Friday night (May 15), making the short trek from SpaceX's processing facility at nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Demo-2 will carry NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to and from the International Space Station (ISS). The May 27 liftoff atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be the first orbital human spaceflight to launch from U.S. soil since NASA's space shuttle fleet retired in July 2011. Since then, NASA has relied solely on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to perform this taxi service.
Crew Dragon has made one trip to the ISS already, an uncrewed jaunt called Demo-1 that launched in March 2019. The company launched another Crew Dragon in January to demonstrate the spacecraft's in-flight abort system in case of an emergency during the trip to space.
Demo-2 is designed to fully validate the Crew Dragon-Falcon 9 system, paving the way for operational crewed flights to and from the ISS. SpaceX holds a $2.6 billion contract to fly six such missions, the first of which is expected to launch later this year if all goes well with Demo-2.
The activity at KSC is going to ramp up considerably over the next week and a half as SpaceX and NASA gear up for the launch. For example, Behnken and Hurley will fly to KSC from their home base, NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, on Wednesday (May 20). And NASA's Demo-2 Flight Readiness Review to decide if the mission is ready for a May 27 launch will begin the following day, agency officials said.
Like SpaceX, Boeing holds an astronaut-ferrying contract with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which the aerospace giant will fulfill using a capsule called the CST-100 Starliner. But Boeing isn't ready to start flying people; Starliner encountered problems during its version of Demo-1, which launched this past December, and wasn't able to meet up with the ISS as planned. Boeing will re-fly that uncrewed mission before putting astronauts aboard Starliner.
- SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsule explained (infographic)
- SpaceX celebrates Crew Dragon's 1st launch anniversary with epic video
- See the evolution of SpaceX's rockets in pictures
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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.