Florida’s Space Coast is preparing for liftoff -- the first launch since 2011 that will send astronauts back into space from American soil.
You don’t have to be a NASA aficionado to know that this launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will be history-making. To catch up before the big event, here are nine reasons to be out-of-this-world excited to watch the takeoff.
Why this launch is historic
Even if you don’t live along the Space Coast it’s hard not to experience the fanfare that a launch in Central Florida brings, but why is this launch so historic?
For starters, this is the first time astronauts will be launched into space from American soil since 2011. Over the last nine years, a lot has changed since then, including the science and safety for propelling two people out into orbit.
The launch scheduled for Wednesday also marks the first time a private spacecraft will carry astronauts into orbit in the history of space exploration. Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule will make that historic achievement.
SpaceX was founded by Musk in 2010 with a mission to privatize space exploration and seek “safe, reliable and cost-effective crew transportation to and from the ISS."
How to watch
The most important thing to know is when and how to watch the launch and follow along. This mission, known as Demo-2, is scheduled to launch Saturday at 3:22 p.m. ET after the initial launch was scrubbed Wednesday due to poor weather conditions.
You can watch on ClickOrlando.com through the News 6 virtual watch party and follow updates from News 6 reporters at Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX.com and NASA.gov will also have live launch coverage of the countdown.
If the launch scrubs on Saturday, SpaceX has another backup window at 3 p.m. Sunday.
No longer paying Russia for a ride
The Space Shuttle, which carried NASA astronauts into space for 30 years, retired in July 2011, and since then, the U.S. has paid Russia about $80 million a seat to send it American astronauts into orbit. NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
In 2014, NASA awarded $2.6 billion to SpaceX under the commercial crew program to develop, test and fly a human-rated spacecraft into low earth orbit. Boeing was also awarded $4.2 billion from NASA to do the same.
By partnering with private companies under the Commercial Crew Program, NASA hopes to lower the cost of launching its astronauts to the ISS. With SpaceX, NASA will be paying about $55 million a seat to fly NASA astronauts, according to a NASA Office of Inspector General report.
Meet the astronauts: ‘Bob and Doug’
Astronauts might have one of the most interesting jobs in the world (or out of this world), and the men who will be aboard the Crew Dragon have quite the resume to back up their credentials.
Veteran astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, or “Bob and Doug” as NASA leaders affectionately call them, have a combined 1,400 of spaceflight hours between them.
Countdown Dress Rehearsal ➡️Complete— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) May 23, 2020
Today, @NASA astronauts @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken participated in a dress rehearsal of the launch day events.@45thSpaceWing predicts a 40% chance of favorable weather conditions for the #LaunchAmerica mission. https://t.co/2lbhYX9Ae2 pic.twitter.com/y225wOSUXf
Both former military test pilots, Behnken described their upcoming flight as a “dream job” conducing a test mission aboard a new spacecraft, the Crew Dragon.
Behnken and Hurley were both selected as part of NASA astronaut class in 2000, but prior to joining the U.S. space agency, both logged thousands of hours in more than 25 different aircraft as test pilots.
President, Vice President to attend
Floridians aren’t the only ones wanting to catch a glimpse of lift-off along the Space Coast.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will both be at the Kennedy Space Center for countdown, according to White House officials.
The president, who has directed the Department of Defense to establish the U.S. Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces, has said it is his goal to reassert American dominance in space, according to the White House.
“Our destiny, beyond the Earth, is not only a matter of national identity but a matter of national security," Trump said.
The last president to attend an astronauts launch from Florida was President Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama was here in 2011 for one of the final space shuttle launches but the launch was scrubbed.
Excited to welcome @POTUS Trump and @VP Pence to @NASAKennedy to usher in a new era of space exploration on May 27th! Under President Trump’s leadership, we are once again launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/15moAV5hca— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 23, 2020
Flying in a brand new spacecraft
Once in orbit, Behnken and Hurley will have the chance to test out their brand new spacecraft and verify the Crew Dragon is performing as intended. Hurley will be able to manually fly the spacecraft during several opportunities before they reach the space station.
The astronauts will also eat, sleep and be able to use the bathroom on Crew Dragon for the first time.
It will then take about 19 hours for the Crew Dragon to reach the ISS for docking.
Although the Crew Dragon is designed to dock with the ISS autonomously, the astronauts aboard have the capability to do so manually should plans go awry.
Ever wanted to try your hand at docking a spacecraft aboard the ISS?
SpaceX released a docking simulator Behnken and Hurley have used during training for the return of human spaceflight to the U.S. soil to the space station.
Click here to see if you’ve got what it takes to make it to the ISS.
What’s the plan after the astronauts reach the ISS?
Behnken and Hurley’s successful launch into orbit is part of their mission but docking and returning to Earth safely are the other critical milestones for a successful test flight.
While on the ISS the astronauts will live and work on the orbiting laboratory conducting science experiments.
The two astronauts will join others already aboard the ISS: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
The length of Behnken and Hurley’s stay on the ISS is unclear but will last at least a month or as long as four months depending on when the next Crew Dragon mission is ready to fly.
There’s a big contingency plan should anything go wrong during the launch
No chances are being taken when it comes to the safety of the astronauts. If anything is even slightly less than ideal, all parties involved in the launch will delay it until conditions improve, which is why the launch was initially scrubbed Wednesday afternoon after the astronauts and fuel had already been boarded.
There are certain launch and recovery criteria NASA and SpaceX must meet in order to get the rocket along with the two astronauts off the ground in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Should something go wrong or malfunction after launch occurs, the Crew Dragon is equipped with thrusters to propel itself away from the Falcon 9 rocket, aborting the mission.
In January, SpaceX intentionally blew up one of its own rockets to test the Crew Dragon’s ability to keep astronauts safe in the event of a Falcon 9 rocket launch failure.
Should a failure occur and an emergency abort is activated, the Crew Dragon will deploy parachutes and land in one of many zones in the Atlantic Ocean, anywhere from Florida’s coast to the water surrounding Ireland, to return Behnken and Hurley safely.
What’s next for SpaceX?
NASA and SpaceX are already preparing to send another Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS with three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut on board. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that launch is on track for August 30, depending how this test mission goes.
In addition to the NASA commercial crew program, SpaceX has wasted no time preparing for future private missions, pushing forward with the development of the Starship and Super Heavy launch system, all with the intention to take humans to the moon and Mars in a space tourism program.
Seats aboard the Starship will likely cost no less than $20 million and may even include visits to the company’s touted “space hotels” which may be in development for a 2021 preview.
NASA also recently selected SpaceX’s Starship, along with several other commercial companies, to fly NASA astronauts to the moon under the Artemis program.