The launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon space capsule became media sensation on Wednesday, and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were the stars. The two brought some brought a human element to the out-of-this-world mission, and the public got to follow them every step of the way to lift-off — including their climactic suit-up.
Behnken and Hurley were fit snugly into spacesuits hours before their historic trip in the Crew Dragon capsule. Footage of them getting their equipment in order became one of the most-viewed clips of the exciting afternoon on Twitter, where they were keeping viewers up to date on what was going on. A video posted on the official NASA account showed them testing their suits in replicas of the seats they would sit in on the mission, ensuring that the straps lined up correctly with other materials.
Commenters watched with excitement as this step in the mission got underway. Many remarked on the fact that the astronauts themselves and their visors up, while the crew helping them wore face masks. However, there was disagreement about whether this was due to the coronavirus pandemic or the general need for sterility when it comes to space travel.
Either way, it was clear that the whole thing was a finely tuned operation. The Crew Dragon is set to launch at precisely 4:33 p.m. ET — a time calculated to give it just the right trajectory to reach the International Space Station. If it is off by even a few seconds, the rotation of the earth could throw it off its path.
This project is the first time NASA has ever sent its astronauts up in a craft made by a private company, and the first time America has launched its own astronauts since 2011. After the Space Shuttle Program expired in 2011, NASA began renting seats for Americans to travel to the space station on Russian shuttles, costing as much as $86 million per trip, according to a report by CNN.
In the meantime, NASA focused its efforts on space exploration while offering the private sector a chance to build the next space shuttle. The agency's contract with SpaceX was signed in 2014, for a total of $2.6 billion. NASA hopes that privatizing this part of the process may save money and incentivize innovation while allowing the agency itself to push the boundaries of science. Watch the Crew Dragon launch live on Wednesday at 4:33 p.m. ET on most news networks or the NASA YouTube channel.