To say that the past week was an eventful one would be a gigantic understatement. This past week’s recap will focus almost exclusively on SpaceX since it has made history and has become the first private company to launch astronauts into orbit using its own commercially-made spacecraft.
May 26: Final Preparations for Demo-2 Complete.
On May 26, SpaceX completed its final preparations for Demo-2’s initial launch date of May 27, after clearing 2 major tests:
The first one was a flight readiness review by NASA needed to reduce risk and prevent death of the crew, the second one being a test-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket engines.
May 27: Liftoff Aborted; backup date set for May 30.
Wednesday May 27th was the initial date of the launch of the Crew Dragon. However, the mission was aborted at the eleventh hour, due to unfavourable weather conditions. The liftoff was initially scheduled at 4:33 p.m. ET and was called off exactly 16 minutes and 53 seconds before it took place. A new backup date has been set at May 30 at 3:22 p.m. ET.
In non-SpaceX-related news, Tesla’s Cybertruck appeared in a Jay Leno’s Garage episode called “Risk vs. Reward”. The truck was driven by renowned comedian and ex-talk-show host Jay Leno, and Elon Musk was inside the truck as well as a passenger. They drove the all-electric truck inside the Los Angeles’ Test Tunnel, which is an underground tunnel built by The Boring Company.
May 30: History has been made!
Saturday May 30, 2020. A date which will live in history, and thankfully, not in infamy. SpaceX’s own Crew Dragon Capsule, crewed by Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and carried by a Falcon 9 rocket, successfully launched into orbit as planned at 3:22 p.m. ET, from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launchpad 39A.
(Apart from the aforementioned fact that SpaceX has made history, the Demo-2 mission is also the first crewed orbital spaceflight launched from U.S. soil since 2011)
Falcon 9’s first stage booster 1058.1 was separated from the Crew-Dragon capsule shortly after liftoff and was retrieved on the Florida Coast by SpaceX’s autonomous drone ship, comically known as “Of Course I Still Love You” (OCISLY).
Twelve minutes after takeoff, the Crew-Dragon capsule separated from Falcon 9’s second stage, marking the end of the climb into space phase, and beginning its orbit flight up until its docking into the International Space Station.
May 31: Docking with the ISS complete! No specific timetable for Demo-2 yet.
On Sunday May 31st, after 19 hours of orbiting around Earth, the Crew Dragon finally completed its historic rendezvous with the International Space Station and docked at 10:16 am. ET, 13 minutes earlier than the initially scheduled time of 10:29 a.m. ET.
After docking, Hurley and Behnken performed leak tests to ensure that the capsule was safely docked with the ISS, and at 1:02 p.m. ET, the ISS’ hatch was opened to welcome both astronauts. Meeting them were NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian astronauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagne. Hurley and Behnken will both serve among the station’s Expedition 63 crew.
A communiqué released by NASA on the same day stated that the Demo-2 mission, if successfully concluded will quote-unquote “validate all aspect of its crew transportation system […] and operational capabilities before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station.”
We don’t know when the Crew Dragon will return to Earth. No specific timetable has been set yet by either SpaceX or NASA. But according to an article by Space.com, the Crew Dragon’s solar arrays are only rated for 119 days in space, meaning that the mission is expected to be completed by next fall at the most.