NASA and SpaceX get set to make history with landmark spaceflight during pandemic

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participate in an integrated SpaceX test of critical crew flight hardware in March, in preparation for this month’s scheduled launch to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon capsule. (SpaceX Photo) Everything is in readiness for the first mission to send humans into orbit from U.S. soil since NASA retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011 – from the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that will take two astronauts to the International Space Station, to the parachutes that will bring them back down gently to an Atlantic Ocean splashdown, to the masks that NASA’s ground team will wear in Mission Control.
The fact that the launch is coming in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has added a weird and somewhat wistful twist to the history-making event.
“That certainly is disappointing,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, who’ll be spacecraft commander for the Crew Dragon demonstration mission, told reporters today during a mission preview. “An aspect of this pandemic is the fact that we won’t have the luxury of our family and friends being there at Kennedy to watch the launch. But it’s obviously the right thing to do.”
NASA is asking people not to show up in person to watch the liftoff, currently scheduled for 4:32 p.m. ET (1:32 p.m. PT) May 27 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“The challenge that we’re up against right now is, we want to keep everybody safe,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “That’s the No. 1 highest priority of NASA, keeping people safe, 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.”
Instead, NASA is asking the public to tune into streaming coverage of the journey to the space station , which will run continuously from before launch to the docking 19 hours after liftoff.

Crew Dragon at the Cape undergoing final preparations ahead of first flight to the @Space_Station with @NASA astronauts onboard
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 1, 2020

This month’s milestone mission is aimed at testing all the systems on the SpaceX Crew Dragon during crewed flight for the first time. It’s known as Demo-2, because the flight follows up on Demo-1, an initial uncrewed demonstration mission that was flown successfully in March 2019 .
Hurley and his Dragon crewmate, Bob Behnken, will work alongside the other residents of the space station for at least a month – and perhaps for as long as four months, depending on how smoothly the mission goes and how quickly a follow-up Crew Dragon mission comes together.
The ultimate limiting factor has to do with how long the Dragon’s power-generating solar arrays last before they degrade in the harsh conditions of space. Engineers figure 119 days is the maximum.
If the flight is a success, Crew...