NASA’s Next Great Leap

While it may seem like the whole world has come to a standstill, NASA is notably continuing to prep for one of the most important missions in recent memory, set to launch on the 27th of May, coinciding with the week of Memorial Day.
Riding aboard a SpaceX-built Falcon 9 rocket, the two veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will attempt to dock with the International Space Station in orbit. This mission is notable because since the last space shuttle flight in 2011, there has not been a single crewed mission launched from US soil.
For over nine years since, American astronauts have relied on the Russian Soyuz family of rockets for access to the International Space Station. And these seats are definitely not cheap. Based on data from the Office of Inspector General, NASA pays roughly $86 million per astronaut. In contrast, access to the SpaceX launch vehicle, Crew Dragon, costs roughly $55 million per astronaut.
The astronauts aboard DM-2 (short for Demo 2), Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, are certainly no strangers to spaceflight. The pair have each served on two shuttle missions.
Behnken is the joint operations manager for the mission, and has previously piloted shuttle missions STS-123 and STS-130. A Caltech graduate, as well as Washington University in St. Louis, Behnken has a doctorate in mechanical engineering and bachelor’s degrees in both physics and mechanical engineering.
Hurley is the spacecraft commander for DM-2, and was both the pilot and lead robotics operator on shuttle missions STS‐127, and STS‐135.
DM-2 is set to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 27th, given ideal weather conditions. It should be noted that the NASA weather guidelines for this mission are some of the most stringent in recent years, so delays would not be unexpected.
The first stage is also a new model, and has never been used in a previous mission. The Falcon 9 rocket will lift off at T-0 (4:33 pm), and stage separation will occur at T+2:36. At this point, the second stage (with the astronauts) will continue its path to orbit, while the first stage will attempt to land on a SpaceX drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Canaveral, Florida. Finally, roughly 12 minutes after launch, the Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the second stage, which will ultimately be deorbited, and proceed toward docking with the International Space Station after roughly 19 hours in orbit.
Although it might not seem to be the case at first glance, missions like these are actually very important to climate science research. NASA facilitates the vast majority of climate studies, so any improvements in ease of access to the ISS directly affects this as well. The additional savings provided by such a partnership could also be reinvested towards more climate research in the future.

About Parvin Faghfouri Azar

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