Space Exploration Technologies Corp., more commonly known as SpaceX, will perform an historic feat today, launching two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The mission, called Demo-2, will be a first for the space exploration industry, and could help skyrocket the prestige of SpaceX, the space travel company founded by Elon Musk.
What Makes This Launch So Important?
The Demo-2 mission will mark the first time a commercial aerospace company has ever launched humans into Earth’s orbit. Until now, government agencies have been solely responsible for sending people into space.
The launch of the Crew Dragon space vessel is also significant, marking the first time since 2011 that an American astronaut has lifted-off from United States soil. The US shut down its Space Shuttle Program nearly a decade ago, meaning NASA astronauts have relied on their Russian peers for rides to the International Space Station. NASA has had to pay as much as $86 million per astronaut to hitch a ride on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
Jim Bridenstine, the head of NASA, says it’s especially meaningful that this launch is taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic. He believes the launch will inspire hope and “uplift the general public” amid a disheartening period.
The Domestic Space-Race
With the goal of ending reliance on Russian spacecrafts, NASA challenged two private companies, Boeing and SpaceX, to build a new space shuttle. These companies respectively received $4.8 billion and $3.14 billion to take on the enormous task, but after a years-long race to the stars, SpaceX has emerged victorious.
The launch arrives just in time, too. The International Space Station is running short-staffed and needs to expand its crew as soon as possible.
The spacecraft is currently scheduled to launch at 4:33pm Eastern Time today May 27th, and will lift off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch site has already seen its fair share of history, hosting the disembarkation of the Apollo missions, including the iconic 1969 lunar landing.
The time of liftoff will depend on both the local weather and the weather over the Atlantic Ocean, where an emergency crash could take place. If conditions are less than ideal, the launch will be delayed until May 30th or 31st.
How to Watch
Starting at 11:00am ET, people can tune into NASA TV to watch a livestream of the pre-launch, launch, and docking. There’s also a SpaceX livestream here. Most major news outlets will also broadcast the event.