SpaceX's human-carrying capsule took another step last week toward its big test mission, as NASA shipped out the Crew Dragon to the launch complex. A new photo captures the shiny capsule ahead of its big launch, prior to whizzing through the atmosphere and sending two astronauts to the International Space Station – after which it probably won't look quite so nice.
The NASA Commercial Crew Program explained Monday that the capsule made its way over to Launch Complex 39A, its planned lift-off point, on Friday, May 15. The capsule is expected to launch from the complex at 4:33 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, May 27. AT the time of writing, it's the next scheduled launch on SpaceX's calendar. It will launch using a Falcon 9 booster emblazoned with NASA's newly-revived "worm" logo.
It could be a landmark moment in spaceflight history. While the first sixties-era space race focused on national space agencies battling it out to reach further into the cosmos, the emergent second era is a multi-faceted race that also includes private companies and collaborators.
The NASA Commercial Crew Program is one example of this. When NASA ended the shuttle program in 2011, it was left without a way to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. NASA started renting seats on Soyuz rockets at around $80 million each, sending astronauts up from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. SpaceX, as well as Boeing, has been developing a capsule that could send astronauts into space from the United States.
The capsule arrived in Florida, ready for its "Demo-2" launch, in February 2020:
After completing its stay at a processing facility at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the capsule was moved on Friday:
Behnken and Hurley are expected to move out Wednesday from the NASA base at Johnson Space Center in Houston, out to the spaceport at Florida. The team will then prepare for the flight starting Thursday. For the flight itself, they will be transported to the launch pad using a special Tesla Model X, emblazoned with the new NASA worm logo.
The capsule probably won't look this shiny when it returns. Behnken and Hurley will complete a stay at the space station, returning in the same capsule after an as-yet-undetermined length of time. It will return to Earth by landing in the Atlantic Ocean, where it will be picked up by a vessel.
The capsule pictured is not the first Crew Dragon capsule to launch. SpaceX sent up a different capsule for the "Demo-1" mission in March 2019, the first unmanned flight for its design. This sent up cargo to the space station in a similar fashion to its Commercial Resupply Services missions, which use a cargo-focused version of Dragon. The "Demo-1" mission also sent up a dummy called "Ripley," fitted with sensors designed to measure the effects of the mission on the body.
When the capsule returned to Earth the following month, it looked rather worn out:
The Inverse analysis – A successful test flight could pave the way for some of the most exciting plans in both NASA and SpaceX's future itinerary. For NASA, that includes the Artemis program expected to send humans back to the surface of the moon, as well as the Lunar Gateway that will help support those missions. For SpaceX, it would cover projects like the Starship, designed to send 150 tons or 100 people into space at a time.
As Hurley told Inverse earlier this month, the future of spaceflight could involve a collaboration between public, private and international players. That could help humans finally reach the surface of Mars.