CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen speaks on Crew Dragon, Demo-2
Speaking to Sean Costello on a video call from his home in Houston, Texas, Hansen very quickly acknowledged the importance of what is currently scheduled to be happening later in the day on May 20, 2020: “We’re celebrating a milestone in human space flight, which is particularly important for the United States of course, because they’re going to validate and eventually certify this new crew transport system.”
As a Canadian astronaut selected for training in 2009, Hansen has been in the program long enough to truly appreciate the evolution which has occurred in crewed spaceflight. Crews last launched to the International Space Station (ISS) from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in 2011, a little shy of 9 years ago. Since that time, when crews stopped flying aboard the Space Shuttle, all human transport to the ISS has been via the Russian Soyuz capsule. With the anticipated certification of Crew Dragon, and in the future the Boeing Starliner vehicle, transport options will expand – not just for American NASA astronauts, but for those of all international partners of the ISS, and for commercial passengers alike.
When asked how he saw the commercial crew program relating to his specific journey to the stars, he shared that he has, for a long time, “seen the commercial crew program as being an instrumental part of me flying in space, and also of the future for the Canadian astronaut corps.” Continuing, he addressed the significant impact that it can have on a far larger audience: “More importantly, it’s what this means to younger Canadians with respect to opportunities to travel in space, or leverage space to help humanity. I think this is a major milestone today.”
Also speaking with Gilles Leclerc, the Canadian Space Agency’s Director General of Space Exploration, Costello was able to explore in broad terms, the importance of the commercial crew program overall. Addressing today’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight in particular, he shared: “It’s important for the international partners, because today’s [flight] destination is the International Space Station. It’s just amazing that we, together with our global partners, have been involved in occupying that for 20 years; it’s a very exciting moment. We absolutely rejoice in the opportunity that this opens up, for all the partners to actually benefit from having an additional means to access the ISS.”
Speaking with Leclerc about when a Canadian astronaut might come to be strapped in to either SpaceX’s Crew Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner, he shared that there are very specific ratio factors at play, which relate back to the level of investment and contribution made by each IP as a part of the overall ISS program: “According to the agreement we have with NASA and the intergovernmental agreements which address the international space station, [our access] is based on our 2% participation of the ISS budget. We benefit from a volume of experiments on the station, and also crew opportunities. We just had David Saint-Jacques fly last year on the ISS, so our next crewed flight will be sometime around 2024.” It is widely expected that the next Canadian to fly will be Hansen, but each mission assignment is ultimately determined based on the requirements at the time, as well as a myriad of other program factors.
Discussing the degree to which the Canadian Space Agency (as an IP of the ISS) participated in the design and review of the commercial vehicles which will be docking to the ISS, Leclerc outlined that there was a high degree of awareness afforded by NASA, but that because they ultimately are American commercial crew vehicles there are understandable restrictions with respect to the depth of detail which can be provided to all IPs equally. By inviting the CSA Liaison office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to observe the Flight Readiness Review meetings however, there was a great sense of effective partnering demonstrated: “ It was something that shows that the partnership is strong is open and that we are all part of this, because our crews – Canadians – will eventually will fly on them”.
Speaking in terms of the weather for the May 20 attempt to launch Demo-2, the forecast over the past week has been dicey at best. Ranging from a 60% risk of scrub to 60% odds that the range would be green to proceed, the 45th Space Wing weather officer, in a twist of dry humor, on Monday referred to the weather models as presenting as a real “strange brew”. Most of the media accepted that phrase as a simple description of the complex systems, but as it related to the launch of “Bob” Behnken and “Doug” Hurley, referring to anything as a “strange brew” during an official program call was seen by Canadians as a courteous nod to the neighbors to the North. (Editor’s note: if you’re not aware, there is a cult classic 80’s comedy movie named ‘Strange Brew’, about two fictitious Canadian brothers named Bob & Doug McKenzie. Well worth a watch).
Costello invited Hansen to comment on how today’s astronauts would likely be preparing themselves with such a wide range of weather conditions. He shared:, “The countdown is going to proceed until we know that we can’t fly. For the astronauts, their mindset has to be that they are going today; that when the clock reaches zero, the engines are going to have ignited and they’re on their way to space. Everything is going to proceed normally, until the weather gets to the point where it’s clear it’s not possible.”
Switching back to wrap his thoughts up on the international aspects, Hansen acknowledged that each partner country has been bringing a different area of expertise forward on an ongoing basis, for the greater good of the program: “You know, this is very much an American rocket today, an American success story, but by all of us bringing our niche capabilities together, we’re able to accomplish incredible things.” Continuing about the launch of the Demo-2 Crew Dragon and crew specifically, he shared that “This is going to make me nervous today. I mean, two of my friends are going to climb aboard a rocket and fly it for their first time; it’s making us all a little bit nervous. However, I have to tell you, I have a good feeling about it today. I feel very optimistic. I think the right decisions have been made and the right people are in the right places.”
And what about the nation of Canadians who are tuning in to watch (from a safe COVID-19 distance), today’s launch of an American Commercial Crew capsule? “Canadians should look at this and say, ‘wow – how is this going to change what we’re doing in the future?’, asking themselves, ‘what can now happen in Canada, to leverage these new opportunities?’ We need to be thinking about opportunities, and then really go after them – just like we always have.”
Sean Costello is a technology professional who also researches, writes about and speaks publicly on the inspiring lessons within international space flight program. Prior to joining SpaceFlight Insider in early 2014, Costello was a freelance photographer and correspondent covering shuttle-era Kennedy Space Center launches for various radio and print news organizations.