NASA, SpaceX Rehearse Astronaut Extraction with Mock-up Crew Dragon

NASA, SpaceX Rehearse Astronaut Extraction with Mock-up Crew Dragon
Mock-up of SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft stowed on board the GO Searcher recovery ship on Sept. 7, 2019 in Port Canaveral, FL. NASA and SpaceX teams practiced extraction steps with astronauts on a mock-up Crew Dragon on Aug. 13, 2019.Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

PORT CANAVERAL, FL –  NASA and SpaceX teams recently rehearsed critical activities required to safely and rapidly, recover and extract astronauts from Crew Dragon spacecraft following return to Earth from missions to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

The practice exercises involving NASA and SpaceX personnel simulating work to remove astronauts from a Crew Dragon following splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean and recovery with the SpaceX GO Searcher recovery ship took place last month on Aug. 13 in the Trident basin in Port Canaveral, Florida using a mock-up version of the Crew Dragon.

During the extraction rehearsal the NASA and SpaceX teams worked through the steps necessary to get the astronaut crew out of the Dragon post splashdown and back to dry land on the US East Coast. 

The recovery efforts were conducted with the two NASA astronauts who will fly on the first crewed test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon on the Demo-2 mission – namely  Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

On August 13, 2019, NASA at the Trident Basin in Cape Canaveral, Florida, astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Bob Behnken work with teams from NASA and SpaceX to rehearse crew extraction from SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which will be used to carry humans to the International Space Station. Using the ship Go Searcher to recover their spacecraft after splashdown and a mock-up of the Crew Dragon, the teams worked through the steps necessary to get Hurley and Behnken safely out of the Dragon. The pair will fly to the space station aboard the Crew Dragon for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission.   Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
No firm launch date for the Demo-2 mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center has been announced by NASA.And it is not expected to launch until late this year or early next year.
The Demo-2 launch is on hold following the unexpected Easter Sunday explosion of the recovered Demo-1 spacecraft while undergoing tests of the SuperDraco abort thrusters on a test stand at Cape Canaveral- see our earlier articles.
Recently I observed and photographed a mock-up Crew Dragon a few weeks later in Port Canaveral while stowed aboard the 150 foot long GO Searcher ship below the heliport.
SpaceX recovery ships. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

“Teams from NASA and SpaceX practiced removing astronauts from a Crew Dragon spacecraft on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at Port Canaveral in Florida,”  NASA said in a statement. 

The joint simulation involved a mock-up of the spacecraft and Go Searcher, one of the SpaceX ships that will recover the spacecraft and astronauts after splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnkenwho will fly to and from the space station aboard Crew Dragon for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission, participated in the exercise.”

Mock-up of SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft stowed on board the GO Searcher recovery ship on Sept. 7, 2019 in Port Canaveral, FL. NASA and SpaceX teams practiced extraction steps with astronauts on a mock-up Crew Dragon on Aug. 13, 2019.Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Integrated tests like today’s are a crucial element in preparing for human spaceflight missions,” Hurley said. “This opportunity allowed us to work with the recovery team and ensure the plans are solid for the Demo-2 mission.”

“We are both looking forward to the Demo-2 flight and having the opportunity to return to the International Space Station,” Behnken said. “Each of these exercises puts us one step closer to fulfilling NASA’s mission of returning astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil.”

Mock-up of SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft stowed on board the GO Searcher recovery ship on Sept. 7, 2019 in Port Canaveral, FL. NASA and SpaceX teams practiced extraction steps with astronauts on a mock-up Crew Dragon on Aug. 13, 2019.Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

Notably the Aug. 13 exercise marked the first time a fully integrated and coordinated NASA and SpaceX team “worked together on the ship to go through an end-to-end practice run of how the teams will recover and extract the astronauts when they return from the space station in Crew Dragon.”

As part of the rehearsal, Hurley and Behnken were extracted from the mock-up Crew Dragon, underwent mock medical evaluation and then transported to an airport – Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Skid Strip – as they would be during a real mission. 

The goal is to ensure all participants “knew their roles and responsibilities.” 

“We’re making sure that the team integrates together — that’s a key to any successful mission,” said Ted Mosteller, the NASA recovery director in charge of the agency’s team for the Commercial Crew Program, in a statement. “We worked on successfully doing what we need to do to take care of the crew once they return to Earth.”

Elated Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO after successful Demo-1 launch 2:49 AM on Falcon 9 rocket historic from Launch Complex 39A – flanked by elated NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and NASA Demo-2 mission Astronaut Bob Behnken at post launch briefing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Press Site, March 2019.Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

GO Searcher was utilized to successfully recover the unpiloted Demo-1 Crew Dragon following its launch and Atlantic Ocean splashdown in March 2019 and return to Port Canaveral on March 9. 

Scorched SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on deck of GO Searcher recovery ship arrives into Port Canaveral, FL late evening March 9, 2019 some 35 hours after splashdown at 8:45 a.m. EST March 8, in the Atlantic Oceanapproximately 230 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida and hoisting on deck. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/spaceupclose.com

GO Searcher’ has been upgraded with a crane to enable recovery of the commercially built SpaceX crew capsule by hoisting the spaceship from the waters off Florida’s east coast launch base at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center under a normal scenario.

A helipad and medical treatment facility were also installed on board as part of extensive modifications to the ship. 

“When astronauts splash down into the ocean after their journey to the International Space Station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, recovery teams must be able to transport them to land quickly,” according to NASA officials. 

“In the unlikely event of an astronaut medical emergency, SpaceX has outfitted its recovery ship, GO Searcher, with a medical treatment facility and a helipad in the center of the vessel.”

Crew Dragon was built under contract to NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) initiative to restore America’s capability to launch astronauts to the ISS and end our sole reliance on the Russian Soyuz crew capsule for the first time since NASA’s space shuttle orbiters were retired more than seven years ago in 2011. 

The SpaceX Crew Dragon and Boeing Starliner CST-100 human spacecraft are currently development under NASA’s $6.8 Billion Commercial Crew Program  (CCP) -with the goal to once again ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil on American rockets

SpaceX was awarded a $2.6 Billion contract while Boeing received $4.2 Billion. Boeing hopes to fly its maiden unmanned Starliner mission later this fall atop a ULA Atlas V rocket followed by a manned mission perhaps by years end.

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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