The crew of the upcoming NASA and SpaceX Demo-2 mission will have work awaiting them when they arrive at the International Space Station later this month. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will join Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy for an extended stay on ISS as part of the final flight test for SpaceX and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
The launch on May 27 will be historic for several reasons. For NASA and the nation, the launch will mark the first time U.S. astronauts have launched from American soil on an American rocket since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. For SpaceX, Demo-2 will be the first time the commercial space company has launched humans to space ever.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made the case for the crew of Demo-2’s extended stay on ISS in a blog post today:
To maximize our use of the station with the science we can conduct, we need four crew members operating in the U.S. segment of the station. When we have achieved that, we’ve been able to exceed 100 hours of research time in a week. Certification of the spaceflight systems of our Commercial Crew providers Boeing and SpaceX is critical to our ability to sustain a full crew and maximize our use of this singular national and global resource.
We currently are supporting the station with the bare minimum – only one NASA astronaut is aboard for Expedition 63, Chris Cassidy. As a result, we have extended the planned length of the Demo-2 mission from a standard test flight to ensure Behnken and Hurley can participate as Expedition 63 crew members to safely maintain and operate the station. Among the work that will await their arrival is upgrading the space station’s power system with new batteries due to arrive in May aboard the H-II Transfer Vehicle-9 (HTV-9) cargo spacecraft launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Without the presence of Behnken and Hurley, we otherwise would likely defer such an operation until additional NASA crew members are available.
Administrator Bridenstine adds that NASA is currently negotiating with Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to purchase a single seat about the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to send a NASA astronaut to ISS this fall. NASA has relied on purchasing Soyuz seats to send American astronauts to the International Space Station since 2011.
Later this year, SpaceX is expected to launch its first operational flight for NASA and its Commercial Crew Program; Demo-2 is technically the first SpaceX mission with NASA astronauts, but the mission qualifies as a test flight.
NASA is also holding a series of remote media events with SpaceX and Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley today ahead of the historic May 27 mission.