Update: Wednesday’s Demo-2 launch has been postponed due to weather. The launch has been rescheduled for Saturday, May 30. The streaming link at the bottom of this article will still provide a live view of the launch.
NASA and SpaceX crews are now commencing the “scrub sequence,” in which they will unload the rocket’s propellent and allow the astronauts to disembark.
On Saturday, the United States is heading back into space on its own accord with the launch of the mission Demo-2; a joint SpaceX and NASA flight heading for the International Space Station.
For the first time in nearly a decade, American astronauts are headed into orbit aboard an American-made rocket, being launched from American soil. Ever since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle, American astronauts have been carried into orbit via Soviet-era Soyuz capsules launched and maintained by the Russian government to the tune of around $80 million per seat.
Instead, for the first time in history, a SpaceX rocket will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with two American service members on board: U.S Air Force Colonel Robert “Bob” Behnken and U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) Colonel Doug Hurley. These two men aren’t only veterans of the U.S. military, but also of America’s space program. Both flew in America’s shuttle program, and in fact, in July of 2011, Hurley rode aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis in the program’s final mission.
It seems fitting then, that one of the last space shuttle astronauts will now be among the first to christen this new era in American-based space operations.
Building from their shared experiences in service and their collective years at NASA together, Behnken and Hurley are actually friends outside of uniform as well. They both entered into astronaut training the same year, as two of the 17 candidates chosen in NASA’s 2000 astronaut class.
“We’ve been friends for 20 years,” fellow astronaut Megan McArthur told CBS News. “We started together, we’re still friends together, we have kids now who are playing well together. And so sometimes when Bob and Doug are out in California, and we know they’re working hard, we’ll go out to dinner together, we’ll take the boys and go out to dinner together somewhere.”
Behnken and Hurley have been training to fly aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon for the past few years, which marks a significant departure from the 1980s era technology found in the space shuttles. The Crew Dragon capsule looks like a futuristic spacecraft from the inside, as do the stylish new space suits designed specifically for use within the capsule. While the shuttle and previous rockets have been covered in buttons and switches, the Crew Dragon utilizes touch screen computers and a minimalist design. When compared to the interior of the space shuttle’s cockpit, the Crew Dragon looks positively sparse.
The Space Shuttle Endeavor’s cockpit, shown above, is completely covered in screens and control surfaces for the crew to monitor and manage all of the space craft’s various systems. In the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, on the other hand, everything is controlled via touch screens mounted in front of the crew.
Adjusting to such a dramatically different control interface takes time, but these two men have been training for this specific mission for years. They (and NASA) acknowledge that Wednesday’s flight is legitimately a test, however, so despite SpaceX’s knack for successful launches, there remains an element of risk.
“Training for a vehicle has its similarities, whether it’s an airplane, a car. Obviously, it’s a little easier to drive a car than maybe a spaceship,” Behnken told The Verge last year.
“But I mean, you’re learning the systems, you’re learning how to interact with the vehicle, and then you’re also learning to deal with malfunctions if they occur. You’re learning how to live with that vehicle in space.”
How to watch Wednesday’s NASA/SpaceX Launch
NASA will begin live-streaming the pre-launch events at 12 p.m. (EST). That stream will continue through to the set launch time at 4:33 p.m. (EST). At approximately 6:00 p.m. (EST) that evening, a post-launch press conference will begin on the same stream.
You can watch the events live below or on NASA’s site here.