NASA this week gave the green light for the first test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).
The mission will launch on Saturday March 2 at 2:48 a.m. ET (Friday March 1, 11:48 p.m. PT), and instead of delivering only supplies to the ISS as SpaceX usually does with its regular Dragon spacecraft, this time around it’ll also drop off a spacesuit-wearing mannequin.
No, it’s not another crazy stunt dreamed up by SpaceX’s flamboyant CEO, Elon Musk. It was Musk, after all, that sent a spacesuit-clad mannequin — behind the wheel of a Tesla Roadster — toward Mars in the spectacular debut launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018.
This time around, the mannequin will be kitted out with an array of scientific sensors to provide the SpaceX team with important data ahead of its plan to put humans inside the Crew Dragon capsule for trips to and from the ISS.
The Crew Dragon, also known as the Dragon 2, is the successor to the cargo-carrying Dragon spacecraft that’s been carrying supplies to the ISS since 2012. It can carry up to seven crew members, and, like the Dragon, reaches space via a Falcon 9 rocket launch.
Speaking to reporters at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of mission assurance, temporarily pondered the appropriate term for the space-bound mannequin.
“Should I say ‘dummy’, is that the right word?” the executive asked.
“ATD, we prefer to not call them dummies,” Kathy Lueders, the program manager for NASA’s commercial crew program, interjected. ATD stands for anthropomorphic test device.
Terminology confirmed, SpaceX will now be working hard to complete preparations for the weekend launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Assuming everything goes to plan, Demonstration Mission 1, or DM-1 for short, will mark the first-ever launch to the space station of a commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft designed for humans.
The Crew Dragon’s next outing is scheduled for April to test its emergency abort system that’s designed to save the crew in the event of a problematic launch. Should that go to plan, SpaceX will be looking to launch humans inside the Crew Dragon, though no date has yet been set for the much-anticipated mission.
In preparation for the caspsule’s arrival next week, astronauts aboard the ISS have been using a computer-based trainer to get familiar with the Crew Dragon’s systems for rendezvous and docking, as well as emergency procedures and vehicle departure.
SpaceX’s upcoming launch comes just a week after its last one, which delivered several payloads into orbit and, as usual, saw the Falcon 9 booster land safely back on terra firma.