NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday after successfully completing the launch and docking stages of SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 mission.
Saturday’s liftoff marked the first crewed launch from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. It’s also the first time a private company — SpaceX — has flown astronauts to orbit, and the first time for astronauts to travel inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Hurley and Behnken were welcomed to the ISS by their three crewmates following a smooth 19-hour trip from Earth.
But what will the pair be doing aboard the space station, and how long will they stay there?
Like all the astronauts who visit the orbiting laboratory, Hurley and Behnken will be joining their colleagues to carry out a range of experiments to help scientists understand how human physiology responds to long-duration life in microgravity, and also test life support technologies vital for human exploration of deep space. But most importantly, as this is a demonstration mission for the Crew Dragon, they’ll be monitoring the spacecraft’s performance in space, as well as gearing up for the all-important return to Earth.
As noted by Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, much has already been achieved.
“Bob and Doug are already up there accomplishing a lot of the goals of our test mission,” Lueders said. “They got to do their far-field [manual flight] demonstrations. They got to feel what it’s like to use the touchscreens in zero-G. They got to check out all the different parts of the system and liberate their zero-G indicator.”
The Demo-2 mission is set to last between one and three months. The time period depends mainly on the readiness of the next commercial crew launch, though also on the Crew Dragon’s performance in space.
At the end of the mission, the Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with Hurley and Behnken on board, depart the ISS, and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Upon splashdown just off Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the pair will be met at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and transported back to Cape Canaveral.
“The Demo-2 mission will be the final major step before NASA’s Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational, long-duration missions to the space station,” NASA said. “This certification and regular operation of Crew Dragon will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place on board the station, which benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024.”
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