NASA and SpaceX are continuing their plans to launch astronauts into space from U.S. soil this year, even as the COVID-19 Pandemic continues. In a statement released to the media, NASA sais they are “proactively monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation as it evolves” and that the agency “will continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the agency’s chief health and medical officer and communicate any updates that may impact mission planning.” While no specific date has been set, SpaceX previously said they were aiming for a mid-May launch.
SpaceX will use their reusable Falcon 9 rocket to launch their Crew Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley onboard. The launch will take place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and its Launch Complex 39A, which also served as the launch site for many Space Shuttle launches. This mission will be the return of human spaceflight launch capabilities to the United States and the first launch of American astronauts aboard an American rocket and spacecraft since the final space shuttle mission on July 8, 2011.
This second demonstration mission of the Crew Dragon spacecraft is another end-to-end flight test of SpaceX’s human spaceflight system, which will include launch, docking, splashdown and recovery operations. It is the final flight test of the system before SpaceX is certified to carry out operational crew flights to and from the space station for NASA.
The first demonstration mission occurred without any humans on-board last March. Carrying “Ripley”, an anthropomorphic test device in a space suit, which SpaceX officials prefer to call a “smarty” rather than a “dummy”, the Crew Dragon splashed down on-schedule in the Atlantic after a flawless launch to and docking with the International Space Station (ISS.) Ripley sat 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.