Excitement, Emotion Abound on Eve of Historic Demo-2 Mission


A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon atop, stands poised for launch at historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 21, 2020, ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon atop, stands poised for launch at historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 21, 2020, ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Anticipation continues to build at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida just one day before the scheduled launch of the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft will carry two American NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, to the International Space Station for the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. Liftoff from Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A is targeted for Wednesday, May 27, at 4:33 p.m. EDT — an instantaneous launch window.

NASA officials sit several feet apart in Kennedy Space Center's press site auditorium on Tuesday, May 26, for a briefing. From left to right are Center Director Bob Cabana; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Kjell Lindgren; and NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.
NASA officials sit several feet apart in Kennedy Space Center’s press site auditorium on Tuesday, May 26, for a briefing. From left to right are Center Director Bob Cabana; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Kjell Lindgren; and NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard. Image credit: NASA TV

“I don’t have to tell you all how exciting it is to have the first flight of humans to space from the Kennedy Space Center in nine years,” Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana said during a briefing Tuesday, adding that the launch pad’s history only adds to the significance of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch. “Now, rather than rusting away in the salt air, through our partnership with SpaceX, that pad is being used once again, and it’s now for our Commercial Crew Program as well as other missions for SpaceX, and I think that’s absolutely outstanding.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine recognized the years of hard work required to prepare for this mission, including at the Florida spaceport.

“It’s been nine years since we’ve had this opportunity,” Bridenstine said. “And Bob Cabana, we want to thank you for all the great work you’ve done getting us up to this point, getting the Kennedy Space Center ready. Everything is looking good. As of right now, we are ‘go’ for launch.”

At the launch complex, SpaceX teams continue to prepare for liftoff. Prior to tomorrow’s targeted launch, SpaceX is bringing the rocket horizontal to perform additional preflight checkouts of Falcon 9, Crew Dragon, and the ground support system, including an inspection of the ground-side chilled water radiator feed that keeps Crew Dragon cool before launch. These checkouts do not impact the flight system or targeted launch date, and the vehicle is scheduled to return to vertical later tonight.

The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron now predicts a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 launch — a change from the previous days’ projections, which called for a 40% chance of “go” conditions. The primary weather concerns for launch are flight through precipitation, anvil and cumulus clouds.

“We are so proud and happy for Doug and Bob. It feels kind of like one of your close family members having a great lifetime achievement — and really, that’s what it is,” said astronaut Nicole Mann, herself a member of the NASA astronaut team slated to fly on a future Commercial Crew Program launch on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. “I can speak for the astronaut office — that’s how we all feel, so proud for everything that they’ve accomplished with the NASA and SpaceX team to get ready for this launch.”

This will be SpaceX’s final test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and will provide critical data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations.

While docked to the space station, Behnken and Hurley will join the Expedition 63 crew already on board the orbiting laboratory: astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

“That’s at the core of what we’re doing here today, to continue the incredible legacy of work that we’ve done on the International Space Station,” said NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who flew to the station in 2015 aboard a Roscosmos Soyuz spacecraft as part of the Expedition 44/45 crew. “We’ve had humans living and working on that orbital outpost for almost 20 years, conducting science and research to extend our presence in the solar system and to improve life back here on Earth. This launch represents an extension of that capability.”

Bridenstine acknowledged the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the nation, even its influence on the briefing itself, as he and other briefers sat several feet apart, speaking to cameras in an auditorium empty of press.

“We would love to have this room full. We would love to have reporters; we’d love to have it filled with space enthusiasts,” he said. “Our country has been through a lot. But this is a unique moment when all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again, and that is to launch American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the space station.”

NASA and SpaceX will provide live coverage of the launch activities beginning Wednesday, May 27, at 12:15 p.m., leading up to liftoff and through arrival at the space station at 11:39 a.m. on Thursday, May 28.

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Alastair Brickell
May 26, 2020 10:18 pm

Yes, exciting indeed.

BTW, can anyone explain how someone who is quite bright give his child such a stupid name.

What is he trying to prove?

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
May 26, 2020 11:52 pm

Have you seen the birth “partner”? she chose the name. Odd that they think Xii is “roman numerals” for 12. Sounds more like a chinese politician.

SpaceX Demo-2 launch, hardly a “demo” if they have two men aboard, thous with the track record of previous tests that may be uncomfortably near to the truth.

I’m sure everyone will be praying that there is not another “unscheduled disassembly event”.

Oddly it’s members of “white patriarchy” who get to put their lives on line. Why could not they find some trangender of colour crash test dummies, that would have been far more in line with “diversity”.

Reply to  Alastair Brickell
May 27, 2020 2:40 am

Maybe it’s cool the be the first since “YHWH” to have an unpronounceable name.

Reply to  Greg
May 27, 2020 5:55 am

Technically it was pronounceable, but since Hebrew didn’t have vowels, and because it could only be said in extremely rare circumstances, it’s just a guess now.

Interested Observer
Reply to  Patrick
May 27, 2020 8:46 am

I’m gonna go with YahWho! It’s got a very modern feel.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Greg
May 27, 2020 2:48 pm

The singer Prince tried to make an unpronounceable name by using a symbol instead of letters. He just ended up being called Symbol instead of Prince.

May 26, 2020 10:22 pm

Space x is the best rocket provider now? How many billions Elon scammed from the government (us) to get to the point that we had been 60 years ago?

Reply to  Firemann
May 26, 2020 10:59 pm

If SpaceX gets their Starship to work, every other rocket provider might as well shut up shop and go home. No-one will be able to compete.

Even Falcon 9 is probably cheap enough to take pretty much the entire market if SpaceX wanted to. Who, sixty years ago, was flying boosters back to the launch site or onto a boat and reusing them? Or landing the fairings by parachute and reusing them?

Reply to  Firemann
May 26, 2020 11:01 pm


Truth be told, SpaceX had to re-invent most of the technology. There is no way we can build a Saturn-V today. The technology is very old, quite bespoke and more importantly most of the supply chain to build one simply does not exist any more. Consideration for the shielding for the new electronic alone I am sure was a challenge.

In any event, I will be watching the launch online!

God Speed!

Reply to  AssieBear
May 26, 2020 11:23 pm

“Consideration for the shielding for the new electronic alone I am sure was a challenge.”

I’ve read that SpaceX just use a bunch of computers and compare the outputs, rather than rely on shielding them. If one crashes or starts misbehaving, it can be ignored or rebooted.

Basically, they’ve adopted the ‘how low can we go?’ approach to rocket design to keep costs as low as possible while still achieving the required reliability.

The Saturn V didn’t bother with shielding either; it had a single computer but each section of the pipeline was triplicated, so if one pipeline produced a different result to the other two, its output was replaced with the consensus result before being fed to the next stage.

Reply to  Firemann
May 27, 2020 5:08 am

I must have missed the coverage of the Saturn V first stage landing vertically back at the Cape or on a barge in the Atlantic. Did the Saturn V have first stage engine out tolerance? Did Apollo have abort modes all the way to orbit (no)? Shuttle had virtually no survivable abort modes, the only exceptions being TAO (maybe) and ATO (actually used once). It’s also interesting that the entire development of the Falcon 9 cost about the same or less than the cost of a single Shuttle launch, a single Saturn V launch, or less than half of a single SLS launch. Heck, they’ve already spent 55 billion on SLS and Orion and neither has flown yet (I discount the boiler plate Orion launch that did not even have the final heat shield design).

Reply to  Firemann
May 27, 2020 6:07 am

Not nearly as much as Boeing, and Boeing is still up to their armpits in programming errors and design flaws.

As for pricetag, if your satellite can be launched by a Falcon (9 / Heavy) rocket, only massive lobbying can prevent them from winning the contract.

Reply to  Firemann
May 27, 2020 8:02 am

“to get to the point that we had been 60 years ago”

That’s only true if you believe that modern cars are no different from cars built in the 60’s.

J Mac
Reply to  Firemann
May 27, 2020 10:03 am

Firemann, MarkG, Assiebear, et.al.,
You all have failed to understand how engineering of complex systems advance. The older systems were the best that could be created, given the technology and materials available at the time. New designs not only benefit from the ‘lessons learned’, both good and bad, from previous designs but also benefit from the advances in technology that occurred since the older systems were certified. Once launch systems are certified, NASA regulations made changing anything nearly impossible. The current astronautics design teams stand on the shoulders of every engineer and technologist preceding them.

Instead of denigrating comparisons of ‘old systems’ vs ‘new systems’, you should be admiring and lauding this marvelous human learning progression of technology, materials, design, manufacturing, assembly, static testing, dynamic testing, and flight testing that brought us to this new apex moment in US space launch capabilities. We rise to such new heights of achievement because we stand on the shoulders of Giants! Embrace the Joy Of The Moment!

When Demo-2 lift off occurs, I’ll be cheering “Go Baby! Go Baby! GOOOO!!!”, just as I was when the first Shuttle lifted off April 12, 1981! I’ll be listening for the “Max Q” call, 1st Stage separation, and “You are ‘Go For Orbit’, Demo-2. God Speed!” Makes my skin prickle, just anticipating this…..

Tom Abbott
Reply to  J Mac
May 27, 2020 2:37 pm

Yeah, Elon Musk said something yesterday to the effect that “we stand on the shoulders of giants”, praising the past technological advances that got us to where we are today.

Joel O’Bryan
May 26, 2020 11:11 pm

God Speed.

”When John Glenn lifted off in the space capsule Friendship 7 in February 1962, making the first U.S. manned orbital flight, a voice from mission control spoke the same words that were used in NASA’s announcement of his death: “Godspeed, John Glenn.” Godspeed, meaning “a prosperous journey,” comes from the Middle English phrase God spede you (“God prosper you”). It was originally used to wish success to someone, like saying, “May you prosper.”

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
May 27, 2020 12:01 am

Yes, strange choice of words, I’d have thought the major concern would be coming back alive not the speed ( or prosperity ) .

If I was sitting on top of a massive quantity of explosive material that last thing I would be wishing for was anything more than the programmed amount of “speed”.

Reply to  Greg
May 27, 2020 3:08 pm

Greg what a great comment!

I’m thankful for each and every time I have it confirmed that in the set of all of the biggest tardboxes that ever existed on the planet I’m not alone.

You’re the best budrow!

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
May 27, 2020 7:37 am

Prb’ly originally came from the ancient Vulcan “Live long and prosper”. 😉

May 27, 2020 1:13 am

It’s called the American Dream,because you have to be asleep to believe it.

May 27, 2020 1:18 am

Why is it so hard to find the 4:47 pm EST scheduled liftoff time…

Reply to  Mat
May 27, 2020 5:15 am

I think it is 4:33 pm eastern DAYLIGHT time. They could put it out in Universal Time but people would be even more confused.

Flight Level
May 27, 2020 2:05 am

Mixed, very mixed signals indeed.

What’s the urgent need, is there something really that cardinal to prove by launching a huge budget mission with neglectable contribution to mankind in a moment when, as many other, air travel industry looses jobs by the hour ?

We have other priority very concrete situations right here and now and no one is really in the right mood to fully savor symbolic achievements.

This said, good ride and smooth landing guys !

Chris Wright
Reply to  Flight Level
May 27, 2020 5:03 am

On the contrary, the timing could hardly be better.
In a dark time for the world, this has the power to inspire and to remind us that mankind has a bright future.
Good luck to the crew and I hope they have a great flight!

Flight Level
Reply to  Chris Wright
May 27, 2020 10:15 am

Now let’s figure out how this would pay the rent & utility bills.

Reply to  Flight Level
May 27, 2020 11:59 am

Printing 3D organs in micro gravity, manufacturing new therapeutics and all kinds of medicines and potential vaccines that can’t be done in the deep gravity well of the good Earth, just for a start. Dozens and dozens of applications coming to bear as per high tech. You land your high tech Dreamliner or Airbus thankfully every day (or used to) because of access to space based GPS satellites. I know GPS is just part of the process of landing successfully, and you are hopefully backing up all that high tech with your expertise. But getting the costs down on access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for ourselves instead of paying the Ruskies all those good bucks should be a priority here. Commercialization by private enterprise to LEO has a major upside for our long term benefit, and maybe survival.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Earthling2
May 27, 2020 12:18 pm

Construction of ISS began in 1998. I’ve personally been waiting dozens of years for those “dozens and dozens of applications coming to bear as per high tech” from the International Space Station. I am not aware of a single invention, let alone any mass-produced item, that has resulted directly from activities aboard ISS.

However, ISS has provided many good photos and some spectacular IMAX footage for our enjoyment . . . were those worth the cost?

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Earthling2
May 27, 2020 2:41 pm

“Printing 3D organs in micro gravity, manufacturing new therapeutics and all kinds of medicines and potential vaccines that can’t be done in the deep gravity well of the good Earth”

Yes, I heard them talking about that yesterday. 3D orgains and new eyes for those with macular degeneration. I have a friend that could use some new eyes.

Reply to  Earthling2
May 27, 2020 3:24 pm

I believe macular degeneration can be cured in mice with an injection; I’m sure I read something about it recently but don’t remember the details. So no need to do the whole space thing once that work makes its way to humans.

Organs can be printed here on Earth, too. Several teams are working on that.

May 27, 2020 2:25 am

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Good luck SpaceX, Farewell & God Speed Dragon Capsule indeed. And be sure to have a safe return.

David Blenkinsop
May 27, 2020 5:11 am

It’s going to be really cool if SpaceX can pull this off without mishap!

Now what would be really cool is if they could also deliver the astronauts to the pad in Teslas with all the bulky batteries ripped out and powered by rocket engines instead..

Reply to  David Blenkinsop
May 27, 2020 6:13 am

Way too much thrust from a rocket engine for a mere car…

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Patrick
May 27, 2020 12:38 pm

There are many rocket engines commercially available for spacecraft that have thrust levels in the range of 0.2 to 2.2 lbf. Those would accelerate a 3500 lbf Tesla Model 3 at .00006 to .0006 g. That translates (at constant rocket thrust) to 0-60 mph acceleration times in the range of 76 to 760 HOURS, neglecting road and bearing friction and aerodynamic drag over these times.

Way too much thrust???

May 27, 2020 7:44 am

According to weather prediction for the area the launch will be scrubbed.
Thunderstorms and 18mm of rain @ 4.30 pm EDT.
That’s from the Ventusky site.

Reply to  Alexb
May 27, 2020 9:51 am

Yeah, looks like FL has alot of off/on shower/TStorm activity for quite a few days coming up.

Tom Abbott
May 27, 2020 2:51 pm

Yes, the launch is scrubbed. A few minutes after it was scubbed, they were showing a live shot of the launchpad and several lightning bolts were visible.

There was a good program about Spacex and NASA on the Science channel a couple of days ago, that showed all the progress that was made up to today. It was really interesting.

I especially like the part where they described the way they would rescue the crew if the rocket blew up prematurely. They can separate from the rocket at any point in the launch and they said the crew would experience fro four to six G’s during the exercise. The design allows for a smaller G load on the human bodies.

They said the Soyuz escape system can generate up to seven G’s on the crew and they said it was a very rough ride. The Spacex capsule is supposed to be a much better ride.

I know Spacex retrieves the first stage and reuses them, but what about the second stage? What happens to it? The Science channel program did not give an answer, they just showed it being separated from the crew capsule and then drifting off out of sight.

Reply to  Tom Abbott
May 27, 2020 5:28 pm

Good question…so I consulted a search engine.

“In a Falcon 9 launch, the second stage looks like it achieves orbit along with the payload. … The stage achieves orbit and is left there until its orbit decays. The stage achieves orbit and there’s a deorbit burn.”

So then this must mean it burns up on re-entry? Why not make it a bit longer with a bit more fuel and send it higher into orbit so future use of at least the rocket engines. when we can launch up more fuel? Same as why didn’t they take Shuttle Hydrogen tank with them to higher orbit, and build a hotel space station in LEO. SO close, but so far. We need Rocket Scientist to explain this to us.

“SpaceX has considered reusing the second stage of the Falcon 9 on and off for years. … At a press conference after the March 2017 launch of the first reused Falcon 9 first stage, Musk said the company might try a “Hail Mary” and attempt to recover an upper stage on a future mission.”

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Earthling2
May 27, 2020 7:14 pm

“So then this must mean it burns up on re-entry?”

That’s what it sounds like. The reason I asked was because I had heard someone, I believe it was in the Science channel program mention something about using a parachute to bring the second stage back to Earth. So it looks like they are not doing that at the present time but from your research, it appears they are contemplating doing so.

I love this stuff! 🙂

Reply to  Earthling2
May 27, 2020 11:47 pm

“Why not make it a bit longer with a bit more fuel and send it higher into orbit so future use of at least the rocket engines. when we can launch up more fuel?”

Because it’s not designed to be refueled, and because Starship will make Falcon 9 obsolete if it works.

I seem to remember that they looked at stretching the stage to allow a larger payload, but decided it might introduce stability problems because the rocket is so tall and thin?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Earthling2
May 28, 2020 8:00 am

Earthling2 asked: “So then this must mean it burns up on re-entry? Why not make it a bit longer with a bit more fuel and send it higher into orbit so future use of at least the rocket engines. when we can launch up more fuel? ”

1. Making an upper stage a “bit longer” with a “bit more” fuel means that the first stage has to be “a lot” larger and heavier and carry “a lot” more propellant, for the same payload mass and final orbit. This is a result of the “rocket equation” that relates beginning and ending rocket masses via an exponential factor.

2. Any additional/residual propellant mass in the second stage, once it’s in orbit long-term, needs to have provisions to control internal tank pressurization for propellant boiloff (for SpaceX Falcon-series rockets, that would be the LOX propellant tank) and to prevent propellant freezing (for SpaceX Falcon-series rockets, that would the RP-1, basically refined kerosene, propellant tank). Any addition thermal insulation and heaters and associated batteries/solar arrays and control computers for doing such would either make the first stage even heavier and/or reduced payload to a given orbit.

3. Sending the second stage into a higher orbit (than that presently targeted) likewise is the equivalent of making the first stage’s “payload” heavier (to due the extra second-stage propellant and tank mass that must be accommodated) and, as per Item 1, would require a substantially larger first stage, unless the second-stage mass addition for the higher orbit is SUBTRACTED from the final payload mass.

4. And to address the additional question of why not just parachute the second stage back down to Earth for reuse: once a mass in a low Earth orbit, is has a massive amount of kinetic energy relative to Earth’s sensible atmosphere’s velocity. To slow that vehicle down to velocities compatible with a survivable atmospheric re-entry and parachute deployment, considering the very minimal thermal insulation around the stage and it’s aluminum structure, requires a massive amount propellant mass above and beyond the additional mass of the parachute(s) that would have to be included in the second stage. Again, refer to the “rocket equation” mentioned in Item 1 above.

In almost all cases, SpaceX does do a post-payload separation firing of the Falcon-series second stage engine to effect a targeted atmospheric re-entry with breakup/burnup over unpopulated areas of ocean. I do not know if they have intentionally sized the second stage propellant load for this, or if it relies on residual propellants that remain following a +2 sigma orbit insertion from the first stage. However, such a targeted re-entry burn requires a very small amount of propellant compared to slowing the stage down for survivable re-entry. And they do this re-entry burn relatively quickly, typically within one or two orbits (i.e., in a less than four hours) to avoid the complications noted in Item 2 above.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
May 28, 2020 12:24 pm

Thanks, Gordon. You raised a lot of questions I had in my mind after hearing that SpaceX might try to retrieve the second stage.

They are talking about it. I would definitely like to hear all the details of how they think this would work.

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