NASA has launched American astronauts into space for the first time since the agency’s Space Shuttle Program shut down in 2011. Two veteran astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, took off on Space X’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on Saturday at 3:22 pm ET and will dock with the International Space Station on Sunday at 10:29 am ET.
Demo-2, as the mission has been designated, is a pivotal milestone for both the American space agency and SpaceX as it marks a new phase in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, the federally-funded initiative that tasked SpaceX and Boeing to develop new spacecraft that can transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Space X has been developing its Crew Dragon spacecraft for the last six years and the Falcon 9 rocket, the launch vehicle for the mission, since 2005.
Demo-2 is SpaceX’s first crewed mission into space. The successful docking with the ISS and a safe return to Earth will be the company’s and the Commercial Crew Program’s biggest test to date.
“As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities,” NASA explained in a mission briefing before the launch. “This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.”
According to NASA, the spacecraft will be able “autonomously” dock with the space station “but astronauts aboard the spacecraft and the station will be diligently monitoring approach and docking and can take control of the spacecraft if necessary.”
Once the craft docks with the International Space Station, Behnken and Hurley “will be welcomed aboard the station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew. They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew.”
You can watch live coverage of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon docking in the video player below:
NASA has also provided a schedule of its live coverage for Sunday’s docking:
Sunday, May 31
- 6:45 a.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
- 10:29 a.m. – Docking
- 12:45 p.m. – Hatch Open
- 1:05 p.m. – Welcome ceremony
- 3:15 p.m. – Post-arrival news conference at Johnson
- NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
- Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer
- NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester
Once the astronauts are ready to return to Earth on the Crew Dragon, the spacecraft will “autonomously undock with the two astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and return to Cape Canaveral.”