SpaceX has been going quickly through the steps needed to get a crewed space capsule into service. Now, we’re about to witness the launch of a manned SpaceX Crew Dragon, to be sent on its way to the International Space Station.  Weather permitting, the launch is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

It will be the first time American astronauts have launched from U.S. soil in almost nine years, since the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011. It will also mark the first time NASA astronauts have been carried into orbit by a commercial spacecraft, as well as being the momentous first manned flight for the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

The crew will consist of Commander Douglas Hurley and astronaut Robert Behnken. They each joined the astronaut corps in 2000. Hurley, a former Marine fighter pilot and test pilot, is a veteran of two previous space missions, served as pilot of the final space shuttle flight in 2011. Behnken, a former Air Force test pilot, has logged more than 708 hours in space on two shuttle missions and completed six spacewalks. 

The ship looks like some actual designers had gotten ahold of it and made it look like an actual commercial aircraft, of a kind that inspires confidence in its construction. The interior is equally well designed, with the familiar bewildering array of single-purpose mechanical switches on the control panels being replaced by clean, responsive touch panel displays. Even the flight suits, also designed by SpaceX, look like something from a modern science fiction movie. Frankly, it’s all pretty glorious.

Despite the rapid pace of the development of the SpaceX capsule system, the Crew Dragon meets NASA’s safety requirements of presenting an only one chance in 275 risk that the launch could result in the deaths of the human crew aboard.

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NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, left, and Douglas Hurley participate in a test of critical crew flight hardware at a SpaceX processing facility on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on March 30, 2020, ahead of the Crew Dragon launch scheduled for May 27, 2020.SPACEX

How to watch the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch

  • What: Launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon carrying two NASA astronauts
  • Date: Wednesday, May 27, 2020
  • Time: 4:33 p.m. EDT
  • Location: The Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • On TV: CBS will have live coverage
  • Live stream online: Pre-launch coverage begins 12 p.m. EDT Wednesday in the video player above. Watch live launch coverage on CBSN — in the player above and on your mobile or streaming device.
  • 24 hours of live coverage: A live stream of the mission will continue in the video player above for more than 24 hours, until the Crew Dragon docks at the space station on Thursday, May 28.
  • The American Museum of Natural History is featuring a live feed, with commentary by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Or you could watch it here, on the NASA Live TV Stream.

The Crew Dragon will be raised off planet by a Falcon 9 rocket with 1.7 million pounds of thrust from its first stage engines. Once the spacecraft is safely on its way out of lower atmosphere, SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage on an off-shore droneship while the second stage continues the climb to orbit. 

The Crew Dragon will be released from the second stage 12 minutes after liftoff. It should reach the International Space Station at 11:40 a.m. Thursday.

NASA has been working on ending its reliance on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to and from the space station for six years now. This launch mission, called Demo 2, is the culimination of that effort.

Nobody but essential personnel are allowed on the Kennedy Space Center grounds to witness the launch, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The astronauts’ families are going to be there for the launch, but with only a handful of invited guests instead of a large gathering of supporters.

Both Hurley and Behnken are married to fellow astronauts: Hurley’s wife, Karen Nyberg, recently retired from NASA after two space missions, including a long-duration stay aboard the space station, while Behnken’s wife, Megan McArthur, helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope during a final shuttle servicing mission in 2009.

“We were looking forward to celebrating with lots of people who could physically come to the Cape and enjoy watching the launch in person,” McArthur said. “But I have gotten so many notes of support from people all over the country saying hey, we’re still going to be with you, we’re going to be watching from home, but we’re still cheering Bob and Doug on, you know — go, Dragon! — and so people are still really, really excited about it.”

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