We saw Demo-2 head to space with astronauts and return safely. But that was just a test. Now SpaceX is ready for the real deal: Crew-1. And like many of SpaceX’s endeavors, it’s making a lot of firsts.
Crew-1 will be SpaceX’s first operational crewed mission to the International Space Station, officially launching the new era of commercial fleet missions.
Unlike Demo-2, Crew-1 will be a bit more crowded, with four passengers onboard. First-time NASA astronaut Victor Glover will be joined by fellow astronauts Michael Hopkins and Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut, Soichi Noguchi. With more crew members onboard, that means more science can be done on the ISS. Crew Dragon was built to accommodate up to 7 passengers, with the extra room on this trip being taken up by cargo. And for this momentous occasion, the astronauts named their capsule Resilience.
Exploration requires resilience. And so that name was a reflection of what we've seen from our teammates and our partners that we work with at SpaceX, at NASA, and all of our international partners that have helped to train and to get us this far and this close to launch.
The Resilience capsule will be headed for a roughly six-month stay, setting another historical record as the longest U.S. capsule to be docked to the ISS. But before Crew-1 can take flight, SpaceX and NASA needed to take time to review data from Demo-2.
This test mission was crucial to gain valuable insights on the operations of the vehicle for Crew-1. And the good news–the tweaks were relatively minor. For example, the heat shield on the Resilience spacecraft was made with a material more resistant to erosion. While another minor change involved swapping out a sensor used to calculate the parachute deployment. As for crew learnings, Victor and the team have learned a lot from Demo-2 astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.
Listening to Bob and Doug talk about their experience, it was very comforting to have two professional test pilots and astronauts say that it performed like the simulator did when they were flying it manually. And then to also listen to their lessons about how to pack our food, and how we may want to organize things in terms of having four people as a crew, and also the sights and sounds of Dragon on launch and in entry. They've been very helpful for us to prepare in knowing what to anticipate.
So using the data from Demo-2, all the necessary improvements were taken to ensure that Crew-1 is ready for launch day. Which is FINALLY around the corner.
Initially slated to launch in August 2020, Crew-1 has already been rescheduled a handful of times. But it’s for good reason. The team wants to make sure all the logistical and technical issues have been addressed. The most recent of which forced SpaceX to switch out two Merlin engines in its Falcon 9 booster. Now, we all eagerly await that new mid-November launch date.
Crew-1 will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. From there, the mission will follow a similar trajectory as Demo-2. As the capsule makes its way towards the ISS, it will perform a number of maneuvers before autonomously docking. The mission is expected to take around 9 hours to complete. And it’s incredible what it’s taken to get to this point: from thousands of hours of simulations to more than 8 million hours of hardware testing.
While on the outside, it may look like one thing is going on. There are, I can't give you a number, but so many small things that have to go extremely well. The tolerances are very small, very tight, very precise. It's like a series of miracles has to happen for that to work out. And so every single launch is special, there will never be a routine launch to space. And every time it should be celebrated.