- NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley safely splashed down after a two-month-long test mission of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.
- Now that the astronauts have safely returned home, NASA and SpaceX are pivoting to the next mission: Crew-1.
- The Crew-1 mission is scheduled to launch in late September. The following mission, Crew-2, is scheduled to launch next spring.
On Sunday, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley safely splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, wrapping up their historic two-month test mission of SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.
Now that the test mission has ended—and has largely been hailed as a success—NASA and SpaceX are busily planning for the next mission: Crew-1.
"What we just saw is the beginning of what will be a whole lot more activity in the future," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a post-splashdown briefing on August 3.
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The Crew-1 mission will mark the first operational Commercial Crew mission. The $2.6 billion contract SpaceX signed with NASA in 2014 stipulates that the company will fly a total of six missions to the International Space Station (ISS). Crew-1 will be the first in this series of flights.
The Commercial Crew program was developed to end NASA's reliance on expensive seats aboard Russia's Soyuz capsule, which cost as much as $90 million a head. A ride on SpaceX's Crew Dragon—and Boeing's Starliner CST-100 spacecraft—is estimated to be at least $30 million cheaper.
The Crew-1 mission launch is currently scheduled for late September. This time, four astronauts—NASA's Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Michael Hopkins, as well as SpaceX's first international partner, JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguci—will conduct a six-month mission aboard the ISS. They'll continue to maintain the space station, conduct a series of spacewalks, and perform a number of important experiments.
The Crew-1 astronauts have been training at SpaceX's Hawthorne, California facility, familiarizing themselves with their suits, their capsule, and those futuristic control panels. The Crew-1 capsule, which has been undergoing a series of tests at Hawthorne, will ship out to Florida either this week or sometime next week.
Once Demo-2 is complete, and the SpaceX and NASA teams have reviewed all the data for certification, SpaceX will launch Crew Dragon’s first six-month operational mission (Crew-1) later this year. The Crew-1 spacecraft is in production and astronaut training is well underway pic.twitter.com/SVMQMkK6AB— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 1, 2020
Late last month, NASA announced who will fly on the Crew-2 mission, which will launch next spring. This time, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur—who also happens to be Behnken's wife—will be joined by JAXA astronaut Akihito Hoshide and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
Unless SpaceX discovers an issue with the vehicle, this crew will fly to the ISS aboard the same Crew Dragon capsule that ferried Behken and Hurley to the space station. The Crew-2 astronauts will serve a six-month mission aboard the ISS, according to NASA.
Even while the Crew Dragon Endeavor was attached to the ISS, Behnken, Hurley, and their ISS crew mates conducted a series of habitability studies to see how the capsule would perform on future missions with more people. Would it feel too cramped? How would everything fit?
"We took advantage of having the vehicle there for 60 days and that'll help make a better vehicle in the sense of operations for Crew-1 and Crew-2," Joel Montalbano, manager of NASA's ISS Program, said during a post-splashdown briefing on Sunday.
There's still a lot of work to be done. For the next month or so, NASA and SpaceX will work together to analyze data from the Demo-2 mission.
"We'll start to look into the vehicle, we'll open it up, check it out, make sure that everything looks great," said Benji Reed, who is the director of crew mission management at SpaceX, during a July 29 press briefing. "Once we feel really good about everything that happened on this test mission, we'll wrap up the certification process overall for the program."
The safe and successful conclusion of the Demo-2 mission drew sighs of relief from the NASA and SpaceX teams. On Sunday, Walker, the NASA astronaut who will fly on Demo-1, said she and her crew became emotional watching the splashdown from Houston.
"We're very excited that [the Demo-2 mission] went as smoothly as it did because it really points to the success of how our mission will be when we get a chance to launch."
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