SpaceX has received approval on its mission to launch NASA astronauts for the first time ever on May 27, having passed a key Flight Readiness Review (FRR) conducted by the agency to ensure everything is go for launch.
This final stretch check, conducted over the past few days after the Crew Dragon spacecraft was mounted on top of the Falcon 9 rocket that will take it to the International Space Station (ISS), has officially concluded and the result is that everything is cleared to go forward with preparations ahead of the launch on Wednesday. Another flight readiness review is scheduled for Monday after further checkouts.
The launch window on May 27 is officially set to open at 4:33 PM EDT (1:33 PM PDT), and the Falcon 9 carrying the Crew Dragon will be taking off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On board will be NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the first astronauts to be carried aboard a private U.S.-built spacecraft, and the first humans to launch into space from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
The mission will involve Behnken and Hurley launching to space, then making a rendezvous with the ISS in Crew Dragon, which will autonomously dock with the station if all goes to plan. The astronauts will then stay on the station and contribute to its work as crew members for up to three months before returning home.
Despite the fact that Behnken and Hurley are going to spend a bit of time at the ISS on this mission, this isn’t actually an operational launch — it’s the final demonstration mission in SpaceX’s human-rating process for the NASA Commercial Crew program. Commercial Crew is NASA’s attempt to develop strong public-private partnerships with companies to help defray the cost of sending people to space from the U.S.
The end of the mission will involve the Crew Dragon detaching from the Space Station with the astronauts on board, and performing a controlled re-entry and descent into the ocean, where they’ll be picked up by SpaceX’s recovery crew.
Next up in the preparation sequence is a static test fire, which will be performed sometime later today, and involves firing the Falcon 9’s engines while it’s on the launchpad to see that they’re functioning correctly before it takes off. Then it’s on to launch day (and there are backup dates in case of weather problems) — when the official name of the Crew Dragon capsule for this flight will be revealed, too, according to Behnken.