The first flight of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly nine years finally has a launch date: May 27.
The mission will launch astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in a final test flight for NASA. The mission, Demo-2, will mark NASA's first crew launch from American soil since the agency's space shuttle fleet retired in July 2011.
Liftoff is set for 4:32 p.m. EDT (2032 GMT) from historic Launch Pad 39A — the same site used for NASA's Apollo and shuttle missions — at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"On May 27, will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil!" NASA chief Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter in an announcement today (April 17).
The Demo-2 mission will use a Falcon 9 rocket (also built by SpaceX) to launch Benhken and Hurley on the first crewed test flight of a Crew Dragon spacecraft. NASA has not set a specific duration for the mission, describing it only as "an extended stay at the space station," in an announcement.
Once the mission is complete, Behnken and Hurley will return to Earth with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, off Florida's east coast, to be retrieved by a SpaceX recovery ship.
SpaceX launched its first uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station in March 2019. While that flight, called Demo-1, was a success, the capsule used on the mission was destroyed a month later during ground-based tests of the abort engine designed to protect astronauts during a launch emergency.
SpaceX has since fixed the abort engine issue and launched a successful in-flight abort test in January of this year. The company has also completed a series of successful parachute tests, setting the stage for the Demo-2 launch.
SpaceX is one of two commercial companies tapped by NASA to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The other company is Boeing, which is developing its own Starliner spacecraft and launched an uncrewed test flight in December that failed to reach the station due to software issues. Boeing plans to fly a second uncrewed test flight for NASA before launching astronauts.
NASA picked SpaceX and Boeing as its space taxi providers in 2014, initially awarding $2.6 billion to SpaceX and $4.2 billion to Boeing to develop the new spacecraft. NASA's investment in both companies has increased over the years, with SpaceX receiving more than $3.1 billion for Crew Dragon's development and six operational crewed flights to the station, according to Spaceflight Now.
NASA has already named the crew for the first operational Crew Dragon mission to follow the Demo-2 launch. That flight would launch NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Jr., Shannon Walker and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the space station sometime after Demo-2.
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