NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday after successfully completing the launch and docking phases of SpaceX's historic Demo 2 mission.
The launch on Saturday was the first crew launch from US soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. It is also the first time that a private company – SpaceX – has flown into orbit and the first time that astronauts travel in SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship.
Hurley and Behnken were greeted by their three crew members after a smooth 19-hour journey from Earth to the ISS.
But what will the couple do on board the space station and how long will they stay there?
Like all astronauts visiting the rotating laboratory, Hurley and Behnken, together with their colleagues, will conduct a series of experiments to help scientists understand how human physiology responds to a long life in weightlessness, and for that too Human beings test vital life support technologies exploring space. However, since this is a demonstration mission for the Crew Dragon, they will primarily monitor the spacecraft's performance in space and prepare for the important return to Earth.
Much has already been achieved, as Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
"Bob and Doug are already up there and are accomplishing many of the goals of our test mission," said Lueders. "They have to do their far field demonstrations (manual flight). They had to feel what it was like to use the touch screens in Zero-G. You have to check all the different parts of the system and release their zero G indicator. "
The Demo 2 mission is expected to last between one and three months. The time period depends mainly on the readiness for the next launch of the commercial crew, but also on the performance of the Crew Dragon in space.
At the end of the mission, the Crew Dragon with Hurley and Behnken on board will autonomously undock, leave the ISS and re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. After hosing off just off Florida's Atlantic coast, the couple are hit by the Go Navigator recovery ship SpaceX and transported back to Cape Canaveral.
"The Demo 2 mission will be the last big step before NASA's Commercial Crew Program certifies Crew Dragon for operational long-term space station missions," said NASA. “This certification and the regular operation of Crew Dragon enable NASA to continue the important research and technology research on board the station, which benefits people on Earth and forms the basis for future exploration of the Moon and Mars, starting with the agency's Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the lunar surface in 2024. "