US returns to space with today’s launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule with two astronauts to the ISS

Launch of a Falcon 9 rocket © SpaceX

SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission has been four years in the making and will launch today, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT (20:33 GMT). Demo-2 will mark the first launch of NASA astronauts on a commercial spacecraft and the first launch of American astronauts into orbit on a U.S.-built vehicle from America since 2011.

The mission will blast off from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Pad 39A. Two veteran NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will be tucked inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. The launch will begin a 19-hour journey to the International Space Station, where the astronauts will spend between one and four months living and working.

NASA and SpaceX have given the green light to the launch of flight Demo-2. On Friday, a test of the launch vehicle’s engines proved successful, and Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken donned their SpaceX jumpsuits before a Tesla Model X brought them to the launch site for a final rehearsal.

There is still an unknown factor that could delay the flight: the weather is currently only 40% favourable for a launch but seems to be improving. Since this is a manned flight, the Space Agency will not take any risks and has other windows available for takeoff on May 30 or 31.

Once in orbit, the astronauts will spend around 19 hours in the capsule in order to carry out tests (Demo-2 is a test flight intended to validate the transport of humans by SpaceX) before docking at the ISS where they will stay for 6 to 16 weeks. They will then re-enter the atmosphere before arriving in the Atlantic Ocean.

Demo-2 will be the first takeoff of astronauts on American soil since the Atlantis shuttle on July 8, 2011. Operated from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it will be a first for SpaceX which will also become the first private company to bring humans into space.

It will also mark the end of American dependence on Russia and its Soyuz, the only ship currently capable of transporting astronauts to the ISS. To get a seat on board, NASA must spend nearly $ 86 million. President Donald Trump should, therefore, be present for this event of paramount importance for the American space programme.

The launch will be streamed live on the NASA website, and you can even practice docking at the ISS with a very realistic simulator developed by SpaceX.