SpaceX is slated to get closer to sending mankind into space with a scheduled 2:49am ET launch tonight from Kennedy Space Center; an unmanned demo flight of the Crew Dragon is slated to launch atop a Falcon9 rocket.
The Crew Dragon mission, known as Demo-1 or DM-1, will allow engineers to assess the performance of the new human-rated capsule on a planned six-day flight. Docking with the International Space Station is scheduled Sunday around 6 am, followed by departure and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off of the east coast of Florida on March 8 around 8:45 am.
The Crew Dragon will become the first human-rated spacecraft to launch from NASA Kennedy Space Center since the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011. NASA relies entirely on Russia and their space program to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX and Northrup Grumman (formerly Orbital ATK) have been launching unmanned cargo craft to the ISS from the United States, supplementing cargo missions launched by Russia and Japan.
An anthropomorphic test device in a space suit, which SpaceX officials prefer to call a “smarty” rather than a “dummy”, is sitting in one of the four seats inside the Crew Dragon. SpaceX has named the mannequin “Ripley,” after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the “Alien” films. According to SpaceX, Ripley is fitted with sensors around its head, neck and spine to gather data on the environments astronauts will experience when they ride the Crew Dragon.
If this mission is successful, SpaceX and NASA will launch human astronauts to the ISS in the coming months. NASA previously announced that Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first two NASA astronauts to fly in the Dragon spacecraft once it’s certified for human flight.
Boeing is also preparing their own capsule for human spaceflight. Known as CST-100 Starliner, they too will have an unmanned demo of their craft next month. Boeing is using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket to bring the Starliner to space.