The mission: NASA astronauts will be first to fly in SpaceX spacecraft

Demo-2 mission pairs veterans Behnken, Hurley to test Crew Dragon’s systems

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – At T-0, two astronauts experienced with manually flying a spaceship will begin an autopilot journey to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are both Space Shuttle veterans.

Hurley was on board the orbiter's final flight in 2011.

That spaceship was not designed with an abort system and also unlike Dragon, shuttle's flight was not automated.

Demo-2 follows Demo-1 which was the uncrewed flight of Dragon to the space station in March 2019.

This time, Hurley is designated as Dragon's commander for the launch, landing and recovery, and Behnken gets the responsibility of docking Dragon.

"They do have manual controls that they can engage if they need to and they are going to test out the manual control of this spacecraft," NASA Public Affairs Officer Derrol Nail said.

When the astronauts are onboard the space station, they're expected to join other astronauts there for a maximum of four months, contributing to science experiments.

Ultimately, Behnken and Hurley get home with a ride back on Dragon splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean just as the autopilot mapped it out.

"The display screen they have is very simple. It's nothing like the shuttle that had over 1000 dials and switches," space photographer Dr. Ken Kremer explained.

Kremer, managing editor of SpaceUpClose.com, recorded space shuttle’s final flight and he said this mission will be just as dramatic as in 2011.

"Even though it's made to operate autonomously, and the rocket is well-proven, that doesn't mean it's 100% safe. No matter what anybody tells you, your life is on a knife's edge," Kremer said.

Demo-2 is planned ahead of another piloted Crew Dragon mission later this year.

SpaceX will call that mission Crew-1 and it would have four astronauts on board.

“This is the flight that proves the systems can work and work correctly,” Nail said.

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