Nasa and SpaceX are on course to make history on Wednesday by launching two astronauts inside the Crew Dragon capsule from US soil for the first time since 2011.
Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will travel to the International Space Station (ISS) at 9.33pm UK time on May 27, in a spacecraft built by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company.
Libby Jackson, human exploration programme manager at the UK Space Agency, said the work done by SpaceX and Nasa is not only a huge stepping stone for the US but also a “major milestone for the global space sector”.
“We have been dependent on just a single way of getting to and from this amazing scientific laboratory we have up there,” she said.
Here’s everything you need to know about this mission.
What is the purpose of this mission?
The mission, known as Demo-2, will allow the US to once again send humans into space.
According to Nasa, this is a demonstration mission to show SpaceX’s ability to ferry astronauts to the space station and back safely.
It is the final major step required by SpaceX’s astronaut carrier, the Crew Dragon, to get certified by Nasa’s Commercial Crew Programme for more long-term manned missions to space.
This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company’s Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program
What will happen after the launch?
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will take off from launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft where Mr Behnken, 49, and Mr Hurley, 53, will be seated.
Mr Behnken will serve as the mission’s joint operations commander and take responsibility for the rendezvous, docking and undocking of the Dragon capsule, while Mr Hurley will be in charge of the launch, landing and recovery of the vehicle in his role as the Crew Dragon spacecraft commander.
The journey to space will take around 10 minutes. After about two minutes, the rocket will separate into what is called a first stage and a second stage.
The first stage will return to a SpaceX landing ship which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida, while the second part of the rocket will continue the journey with the Crew Dragon capsule.
Once in orbit, the capsule will separate from the second stage and travel at around 17,000mph before being in a position to rendezvous, and dock, with the space station 24 hours later.
Forecasters put the odds of acceptable launch weather at 40pc.
How can I watch it live?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nasa has advised people to enjoy the event online rather than attempt to see it in-person. You can register to see it live here.
The site also has additional resources to learn more about the mission, including a tour of the launchpad and a look at Nasa Spacecraft Simulation and Spacesuit Training.
A Nasa/ SpaceX launch will broadcast live on NASA TV beginning at 5:15pm BST on May 27, leading up to liftoff at 21:33pm BST, and then continuing through docking the next day.
Who are Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley?
Mr Behnken, 48, and Mr Hurley, 53, are experienced Nasa astronauts who have been involved in testing of the Crew Dragon capsule.
Mr Hurley, who was a fighter pilot in the US Marine Corps, was on the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis in 2011 before it was discontinued.
Mr Behnken was a flight test engineer with the US Air Force before joining Nasa, and has spent just over 29 days in space, which includes 37 hours of spacewalking time.
He will serve as the mission’s joint operations commander and take responsibility for the rendezvous, docking and undocking of the Dragon capsule, while Mr Hurley will be in charge of the launch, landing and recovery of the vehicle in his role as the Crew Dragon spacecraft commander.
The two men will be wearing spacesuits designed by SpaceX with help from Hollywood costume designer Jose Fernandez.
What will they do when they are in the space station?
Mr Behnken and Mr Hurley will test the Crew Dragon’s environmental control system, the displays and controls, and the manoeuvring thrusters.
They will also monitor the autonomous docking system during the approach to the space station, according to Nasa.
The duo will become members of the Expedition 63 crew and perform further tests on the Crew Dragon along with other tasks related to the space station.
But the pair’s main mission is to conclude the validation process that is required by Nasa to ensure the spacecraft designed to carry astronauts can operate safely.
When will they return?
The Demo-2 mission is expected to last anything between one and four months. But Nasa said the duration of this mission would be determined by when the next commercial crew will be able to travel to the space station.
The spacecraft will be capable of staying in orbit for at least 210 days.
When it is time to return, the Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with Mr Behnken and Mr Hurley on board and depart the space station.
Shortly after firing up its engines to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, the spacecraft will deploy four parachutes to slow its descent and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Florida.
SpaceX’s recovery ship, called Go Navigator, will be waiting nearby to retrieve the duo and ferry them to Cape Canaveral.
If Demo-2 is successful, SpaceX will be allowed to go ahead with more manned missions to the space stations as part of their 2.6 billion US dollar (£2.1 billion) contract with Nasa.
Boeing also has a similar deal with the space agency, worth 4.2 billion US dollars (£3.4 billion), to send astronauts to the space station in its CST-100 Starliner crew capsule, although its vehicle is not expected to be ready until next year.