Crew Dragon Launch Puts 2 NASA Astronauts into Orbit

Falcon 9 launches Crew Dragon on May 30, 2020. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A SpaceX Falcon 9 booster launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into space aboard a Crew Dragon vehicle on Saturday, marking the first time Americans have launched into orbit from U.S. soil in nearly nine years.

The booster roared off Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. EDT. Crew Dragon entered a nominal orbit just under nine minutes later.

Behnken and Hurley are due to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday at 10:29 a.m. after a 19-hour trip.

This is the first crewed orbital flight from American soil since the last space shuttle mission in July 2011. NASA astronauts have been relying upon Russian Soyuz vehicles to access the space station.

Behnken and Hurley will spend between six weeks to four months aboard the space station, depending upon how Crew Dragon holds up in the vacuum of space.

If the flight test is successful, SpaceX will move ahead with flying astronauts to ISS on a commercial basis. Four astronauts are in training for a launch currently scheduled for the end of August.

Crew Dragon, which carries a normal crew of four, will allow for the expansion of the station’s full-time crew from six to seven. The seventh crew member will about double the amount of research time available on the orbiting laboratory.

The Falcon 9 second stage after Crew Dragon separation. (Credit: NASA/SpaceX0

SpaceX developed Crew Dragon under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. This is the first crewed flight under that program, which also includes Boeing’s Starliner vehicle.

NASA is providing continuous coverage of the Crew Dragon flight through docking and hatch opening at www.nasa.gov. The schedule is below.

Saturday, May 30

  • 11 a.m. – NASA TV launch coverage begins (continues through docking)
    • 3:22 p.m. – Liftoff
    • 4:55 p.m. – Far-field manual flight test 
    • TBD p.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
  • 6:30 p.m. – Postlaunch news conference at Kennedy
    • Administrator Bridenstine
    • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
    • SpaceX representative
    • Kirk Shireman, manager, International Space Station Program
    • NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester

Sunday, May 31

  • TBD a.m. – Astronaut downlink event from Crew Dragon
  • 10:29 a.m. – Docking
  • 12:45 p.m. – Hatch Open
  • 1:05 p.m. – Welcome ceremony
  • 3:15 p.m. – Post-arrival news conference at Johnson
    • NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
    • Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer
    • NASA Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester

A media phone bridge will be available for this event. Launch commentary will switch to NASA TV’s Media Channel.

Monday, June 1

  • 11:15 a.m. – Space Station crew news conference, with NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken, and Doug Hurley
  • 12:55 p.m. – SpaceX employee event and Class of 2020 Mosaic presentation, with NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy, Bob Behnken, and Doug Hurley