Less than two weeks from now, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will begin their historic SpaceX Demo-2 mission in a Tesla Model X.
OK, perhaps we should explain.
The electric SUV won’t be blasting off from the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center on May 27, but will instead be taking the astronauts on the short drive from the Operations and Checkout Building to the waiting Falcon 9 rocket for the start of their journey to the International Space Station (ISS).
The fact that it’s a Tesla performing the honors is no surprise — the automaker is led by Elon Musk, the same guy at the top of SpaceX, which is supplying the rocket and spacecraft for the upcoming Demo-2 mission.
In earlier missions, NASA astronauts used a modified motorhome known as the Astrovan to get to the launchpad (the Astrovan II was unveiled in 2019 for future Boeing Starliner crews), but the emergence of SpaceX means things will be done differently from here on in.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine recently tweeted photos of the Model X — complete with NASA branding — ahead of the launchpad drive later this month.
Behnken retweeted the images, adding the comment: “Now that the exterior of the vehicle is complete, [Hurley] and I are finalizing the music for our trip to @NASAKennedy’s launchpad 39A. Any suggestions?”
— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) May 14, 2020
Responses from excited space fans included everything from the Beastie Boys’ Intergalactic and Elton John’s Rocket Man to the A-Team theme tune and Bowie’s Starman, a track that played on the music system of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster as it departed Earth as the dummy payload aboard SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy in 2018.
This month’s Demo-2 mission is a big step for U.S. space exploration as it will see NASA launching astronauts from American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program closed down nine years ago, and sets it on course for a crewed trip to the moon in 2024 — the first since 1972.
As for SpaceX, this will be its first-ever crewed mission, using the Crew Dragon capsule, coming after years of successful cargo trips to and from the ISS with the similarly designed Dragon spacecraft. Demo-2 will be another feather in the company’s cap as it eyes even grander goals that include missions far beyond the lunar surface.
SpaceX recently released an online simulator that lets you try your hand at docking the Crew Dragon with the ISS. While the docking procedure is designed to take place autonomously, astronauts Behnken and Hurley will be ready to step in to pilot the spacecraft manually — using controls similar to the simulator — if anything goes awry as they approach the space station.
The launch of the groundbreaking mission will be streamed live on NASA TV. Check back soon for more details on how to watch it.
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