For the first time in almost a decade, two American astronauts are heading to the International Space Station aboard a rocket launched from U.S. soil. The launch will take place at 4:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday, marking an end of nine years of dependence on Russia for transporting astronauts from around the globe to the space station.
The historic launch will take place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the site of the final launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis is 2011 and the same launch site where men blasted off for the first moon landing.
Astronauts Doug Hurley, who piloted Atlantis, and Bob Behnken will take the trip to the space station. Hurley is serving as spacecraft commander for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
We’re 1️⃣ day away from a new era of human spaceflight.
— NASA (@NASA) May 26, 2020
@NASA : "Their dads are heroes. American heroes. They're laying the foundation for a new era in human spaceflight." Administrator @JimBridenstine explains what he would say to the children of the #LaunchAmerica astronauts, @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Do… https://t.co/HvIqd1zzhT) pic.twitter.com/83PhBfCW0e
— NASA live (@nasaliveonline) May 26, 2020
The Associated Press (AP) reported on some of the details leading up to the historic launch when it was announced on May 1:
SpaceX successfully conducted its first test flight of a Dragon crew capsule a year ago, sending the capsule — minus a crew — to the space station. The returned capsule was accidentally destroyed during ground testing at Cape Canaveral, further delaying the astronaut launch.
With the space station crew now down to three, Hurley and Behnken will spend weeks, perhaps months, helping to maintain the orbiting lab.
Because of the coronavirus, NASA has urged people to hold virtual watch parties and has provided a wide range of resources on its website to facilitate those wanting to take part in the launch from afar.
“The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Time magazine article published last week. “And so we’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center, and I will tell you that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.”
“Although crowd sizes varied, a high-profile space shuttle launch could attract a half million visitors to the Space Coast. Local tourism officials think next week’s launch will bring in no more than 200,000 spectators,” Time reported.
But Time magazine also reported that local law enforcement is not going to police whatever size crowd shows up.
If people feel okay about coming in person, “by all means, come. If they aren’t, I respect that too,” said Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey.
“I’m not going to tell Americans they can’t watch a great piece of history,” Ivey said. “I’m just not going to do it.”
“Around 85 reserve deputies will be on hand to monitor crowds and ask people to comply with social distancing if they are in groups,” Time reported. A local chain of beach shops is distributing 20,000 masks to spectators in coordination with the sheriff’s office, Ivey said.
Ivey grew up in Florida and told Time he wants a new generation to be able to experience the thrill of watching a rocket launch.
“NASA is a true part of our history in Brevard County,” Ivey said.
"Remember, this is a test flight. The highest priority is to test the vehicle and get it home safely, and then be prepared to launch Crew-1." Administrator @JimBridenstine speaks about the top priorities of the #LaunchAmerica mission: https://t.co/y62zErSXvv pic.twitter.com/FLD2WIOs36
— NASA (@NASA) May 26, 2020
Meanwhile, the NASA website has a plethora of options for those who choose to watch from home:
- Register to let us know you’re in, and we’ll keep you up to date! You’ll get a chance to interact with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana on the day before launch.
- Like the crew, you’ll want to get yourself prepped for the mission: Tour the launch pad.
- Go inside SpaceX’s manufacturing plant and climb into a mock-up of the Crew Dragon capsule.
- Immerse yourself in astronaut training.
- Get your mission briefing.
- Practice docking the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.
- Print the mission patch and use it in your photo or post.
- The #LaunchAmerica NASA Social is a Facebook group that any social media user can request permission to join by answering a few simple questions and agreeing to adhere to the guidelines of the group.
- Virtually tour NASA facilities and hear from NASA representatives. Virtually view a launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
- Apply to take part in the very first virtual NASA Social and join the community of space enthusiasts.
NASA announced the launch can be watched on NASA TV via NASA’s website, YouTube, Roku, Pluto, and Twitch TV.
“The mission doesn’t end after launch,” NASA said. “Follow NASA throughout and stay informed through the various social media channels – and remember to tag us, and use our hashtags #LaunchAmerica and #CrewDragon too!”
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