It’s been almost a decade since NASA shut down its Space Shuttle program in 2011, bringing an era of manned space missions to an end for the agency. Nine years later, the Elon Musk-founded private aerospace company SpaceX will help NASA send American astronauts to space once again when the Demo-2 Crew Dragon launches on Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 pm ET. You can watch the liftoff live right here.
The launch is a pivotal milestone for both the American space agency and SpaceX as it’ll mark 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 will mark the first time SpaceX has sent a crewed mission into space. It’ll 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. “This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit.”
The Demo-2 mission, which will lift off from the Launch Complex 39A launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, will be manned by veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley who “will be welcomed aboard [the International Space 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.”
Born in St. Anne, Missouri, Behnken will serve as the joint operations commander for the mission. He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 has previously flown in two space shuttle missions in 2008 and 2010. Hurley, the spacecraft commander who also became an astronaut in 2000, is a native of Apalachin, New York, and has completed two shuttle missions, one in 2009 as well as NASA’s final space shuttle mission aboard the Atlantis in 2011.
“Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle,” NASA said.
The mission was originally set to launch on May 27 but poor weather conditions forced NASA to push back the liftoff. As of May 29, there was a 50 percent chance that weather conditions would allow the mission to launch on Saturday. Were the liftoff to be delayed again, the next possible date and time for launch would be Sunday, May 31 at 3 pm ET, which is currently showing a 60 percent chance of optimal weather. NASA is also considering Tuesday, June 2 as a potential launch date if weather conditions don’t improve over the weekend.
NASA has stressed that completion of the Demo-2 mission is but the next big step into the future of the American space program.
“The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station,” NASA concluded in the mission briefing. “This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.”
For a full break down of how Crew Dragon will launch, dock with the Space Station, and return to Earth, check out this helpful guide.