Today, two NASA astronauts made history when they launched aboard a SpaceX capsule, becoming the first astronauts to launch to orbit from the U.S. in nearly a decade. But what’s next for the crew?
For now, eating and relaxing. Veteran astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have earned a break.
Their mission, known as Demo-2, launched SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) today. But the SpaceX craft isn’t set to dock with the International Space Station until tomorrow (May 31). That means the space travelers have 19-hours to kill on their journey to the space station.
“The biggest thing that we need the astronauts to do once they get on orbit and before they dock is rest,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in live commentary just after launch. “We need them to eat. We need them to rest. We need them to be prepared for that docking.”
You can watch the Demo-2 mission live here and on Space.com’s homepage, courtesy of NASA TV, through docking.
But before they get a chance to eat or sleep, Behnken and Hurley first got a chance to stretch their legs and hop out of their spacesuits. Then, of course, the astronauts took time to eat. They won’t need to don their specialized SpaceX spacesuits again until they dock with the space station.
The astronauts also performed a manual flying test of Crew Dragon and are expected to beam live video of their home in space later today, NASA officials said..
The food that the crew will eat during their journey through space is very similar to the food that astronauts eat aboard the space station, Hurley said during a virtual news conference on May 1. But, he added, the pair of astronauts have a couple of added limitations to how they can eat in the capsule.
“We don’t have an oven and don’t have a way to add water to the food,” Hurley said. The astronauts joked that, with their military experience, these less-than-ideal rations compared to military MRE’s (or Meals Ready to Eat), should be just fine.
Following the food will come rest. The pair will get (or try to get) a full 8 hours of sleep aboard Crew Dragon. “They’ll eat first, then they’ll get to sleep,” NASA Public Affairs Officer Marie Lewis said during the live launch broadcast today.
“That sleep portion of the mission is actually really important because we need them to be really well-rested and comfortable whenever they start doing the approach phases to the International Space Station. So they get a scheduled 8 hours,” she said. But, Lewis added, the astronauts will be sleeping in a sitting position.
“The sleeping situation that they have for their ride on Dragon is definitely a little different from what they’ll have on their longer stay on the International Space Station,” Lewis said.
Also during this trip, the astronauts will perform two manual flight tests. The first manual flight test was the one relatively early in the journey.
“That’s gonna be Bob and Doug actually taking control of the Dragon spacecraft for the very first time,” NASA Public Affairs Officer Dan Huot said during the live broadcast today.
Behnken and Hurley will perform their second manual flight test toward the end of their trip. Once the astronauts are in range of the space station, “they’re going to start maneuvering the spacecraft themselves,” Bridenstine added today.
While Crew Dragon is an autonomous vehicle and could even dock with the space station on its own, by manually controlling the capsule for docking and during one other point in their trip to the space station, Behnken and Hurley will make sure that the vehicle works as it’s supposed to and is able to be manually controlled (in case of an emergency where a crew might have to take manual control of the vehicle).
“As test pilots, they will test-fly this vehicle to make sure that it operates as advertised,” Bridenstine said.
Visit Space.com for complete coverage of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 flight.