by Jeff Cunningham
After years of iterating designs on the drawing board, hard work on the factory floor, and combating the naysayers and haters, the Crew Dragon, the first private orbital spacecraft (Virgin Galactic’s bird is a suborbital craft, and yes, the Orion also had an unmanned test flight as the first government-commissioned craft since the space shuttle) will launch from Kennedy Space Center in the United States in the early morning hours of Saturday, the 2nd of March.
While as a native, I can attest that the weather down here in Florida has been the usual “routine chaos,” forecasters are nonetheless predicting an 80% chance of favorable launch conditions. Additional, backup chances will be available on the 5th and 9th, when the International Space Station’s orbit will provide an opportunity for the unmanned, remote-piloted Crew Dragon to dock with it.
With this trial flight and delivery of supplies to the space station, SpaceX’s new craft will have completed its final milestone before becoming the first independently made ship to carry a crew of NASA astronauts later this year. Years ago, when the cargo-ferrying variant of the Dragon made a similar proving flight to the Station, it carried a large test payload — traditionally a block mass of some kind as part of engineering practice, the SpaceX technicians opted for something more humorous, and delivered a large wheel of cheese to the surprised astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the station. The company has not commented on what sort of surprises may or may not be included in this launch’s payload manifest.
As far as Take Back the Sky is concerned, this is also our best and possibly final chance to make our voice heard that this year’s maiden crewed Dragon should be named Serenity in honor of the cult sci-fi hit of the same name (and the spaceship from the film’s predecessor, the TV series Firefly). Before the shuttle era, NASA astronauts traditionally named their own capsule craft, and at least one half of the agency’s selected crew, Robert “Bob” Behnken, is known to be a fan of the show and film himself, so it’s our hope that, at this point, letters of support and encouragement to both him and his crewmate Doug Hurley, will be most efficacious towards this end.
Live coverage of the 2:49 AM EST launch will be streamed to SpaceX.com and the company’s official YouTube channel.