We’ve seen SpaceX’s Crew Dragon hurdle multiple delays and survive the scrutiny of a flight readiness review, and now we’re finally ready to watch the capsule escape from this planet with the help of a Falcon 9 rocket.
Space fans in the US will need to stay up late to watch the historic, uncrewed Demonstration 1 (Demo-1) mission take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
As of Friday, the forecast looked good for the weekend, with meteorologists predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather.
Demo-1 will mark a serious step forward for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which involves SpaceX and Boeing working to launch astronauts from US soil.
NASA hopes to end its reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. It’s been buying rides on board the Roscosmos capsules since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
While SpaceX has flown Dragon cargo capsules to the International Space Station, the crew version is longer and heavier and designed to hold four astronauts.
On Thursday, SpaceX and NASA got the Falcon 9 rocket upright at the historic Launch Complex 39A, the same pad many astronauts departed the planet from during NASA’s Space Shuttle era.
This Crew Dragon test mission will carry crew supplies and equipment on board. It will also have a special guest dummy, with Elon Musk introducing “Ripley” to the world on Thursday.
The dummy will remain within the Crew Dragon capsule and contains a body full of sensors that will enable SpaceX to get a better feel for what’s happening inside the capsule. She gets her name from the famous badass space warrant officer made famous in the Alien franchise, Ellen Ripley.
“Actually having a reentry, with Ripley in the seat, in the position, is critical,” said Kathy Lueders, manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a pre-flight media conference.
The capsule will remain docked at the ISS for five days before returning to Earth to land in the Atlantic Ocean for recovery.
NASA has referred to initial uncrewed test flights as “dress rehearsals for missions with astronauts aboard the vehicles.”
If Demo-1 goes well, NASA and SpaceX will lock it in for another safety test — the “in-flight abort test.” That will ensure the systems used in an emergency situation, where the capsule might need to be jettisoned away from the rocket, are all in working order. Once NASA and SpaceX are happy, then it’s time for the real deal: sending astronauts up on a Crew Dragon scheduled to launch in mid-2019.
First published Feb. 27, 3:49 p.m. PT
Update, March 1, 3 a.m. PT: Adds extra information about launch, Ripley.
Update, March 1, 10:19 a.m. PT: Adds weather conditions as of Friday.