NASA astronauts arrive in Florida week before SpaceX flight
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 20, 2020
Two NASA astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, one week before they blast off aboard a SpaceX vessel -- the first crewed space flight to leave from US soil in nine years.
US astronauts have been flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on Russian Soyuz rockets since the shuttle program ended in 2011 -- a dependence they are keen to break.
"It has been a long road," said Douglas Hurley, who will be one of the astronauts and was also on the last shuttle flight.
He and astronaut Robert Behnken will be the first humans to fly on SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, which was tested with a dummy last year.
The Crew Dragon will take off from Kennedy with help from SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and dock at the ISS, which is currently housing two Russians and one other American.
"This is an awesome time to be an astronaut, with a new spacecraft," Behnken said during a press conference in Florida.
The two arrived in Florida on a NASA jet after being in quarantine since May 13 in Houston in an effort to protect themselves and those aboard the ISS from the novel coronavirus.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine -- who refrained from shaking hands with the pair -- reiterated that it was only the fifth time in history that the United States would launch a new space flight program.
It is the first program to be carried out as a public-private partnership -- with SpaceX producing the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Boeing producing the Starliner.
To limit public spending, NASA financed development of the spacecrafts but has signed contracts with the companies to ensure six round-trip flights to the ISS.
In another difference from the previous programs, the May 27 launch will occur without the usual crowds of spectators due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NASA is already under pressure from President Donald Trump who has instructed the space agency to return to the moon by 2024, accelerating an already risky undertaking.
The head of NASA's human spaceflight program, Doug Loverro, abruptly resigned Tuesday after only six months on the job, in a move possibly related to procurement of spacecraft for the Artemis lunar mission.
NASA chief of human spaceflight resigns ahead of launch
Doug Loverro resigned on Monday and told The Washington Post his departure has to do with NASA's Artemis project, which aims to return astronauts to the moon.
"It had nothing to do with commercial crew," he said. "It had to do with moving fast on Artemis, and I don't want to characterize it in any more detail than that."
Loverro's resignation came as a surprise to many, especially its timing. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are scheduled to take a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into space May 27 on a test flight from the Kennedy Space Center.
Former astronaut Ken Bowersox will replace Loverro as associate administrator of the agency's Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, on an interim basis.
NASA said it is proceeding as scheduled with next week's launch, which will be its first to send astronauts into space since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
Behnken and Hurley were scheduled to arrive Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Why our launch of the NASA and SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the ISS is essential
Washington DC (SPX) May 04, 2020
On April 17, NASA and SpaceX announced that the upcoming flight test of the new Crew Dragon spacecraft with our astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley is now scheduled for lift off no earlier than 4:32 p.m. EDT on Monday, May 27. The launch of the Demo-2 mission will take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Have no doubt about it: I am looking forward to the launch. It will be historic and momentous. It also is critically important. The Crew Dragon's destination is the Internat ... read more
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