TWO astronauts will blast off on a mission to the International Space Station today – and you can catch the historic launch from your garden.
Nasa spacefarers Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will zip into orbit on May 27 aboard a spacecraft built by California rocket firm SpaceX.
Lifting off from Florida this evening, the astronauts' space capsule will be visible in the sky just a few minutes after launch.
Not only that, but their destination – the orbiting International Space Station (ISS) – will skate across the sky just before 11pm BST (6pm ET).
You won't need binoculars or a telescope to spot them, as they'll be flying so low that they're visible to the naked eye.
We've got all the information you need to spot them below.
What time will Crew Dragon and the ISS appear?
The mission, dubbed Demo-2, will launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 9:33pm BST (4:33 pm ET) on May 27.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will liftoff from Launch Complex 39a – the same launchpad used during the historic Apollo 11 Moon landings.
The rocket will be topped by a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying Behnken and Hurley. It will separate once in orbit, 12 minutes after liftoff.
It's this Crew Dragon capsule that will be visible on Wednesday evening, looking like a bright star in the sky.
Stargazers in the UK and Europe should be able to spot the spacecraft at around 9:51pm BST (give or take a few minutes).
The six-metre-long, cone-shaped capsule will be so bright that you won't need binoculars or a telescope to see it.
It goes without saying that your best chance of catching the craft requires clear skies and as little light around you as possible.
Try not to stare at your phone too much and turn off outside lights to dampen the effects of light pollution.
In the US, the capsule will appear at around 4:51pm ET, meaning it'll likely be too bright to see anything.
The ISS is expected to fly over the UK at 10:57pm BST (5:57pm ET).
Demo-2 will be live-streamed for free across the globe on NasaTV.
Space fans will also be able to watch the launch via the SpaceX websiteand the firm's official YouTube channel.
We'll also be hosting a stream right here at The Sun.
How to track Crew Dragon and the ISS in real-time
Not sure where to look? Your phone's got you covered.
There are a number of stargazing apps you can use to follow the path of satellites and other space objects.
On the Apple App Store, we'd recommend Night Sky, which is free and helps you find all kinds of celestial wonders.
What is the ISS?
Here's what you need to know about the International Space Station…
- The International Space Station, often abbreviated to ISS, is a large space craft that orbits Earth and houses astronauts who go up there to complete scientific missions
- Many countries worked together to build it and they work together to use it
- It is made up of many pieces, which astronauts had to send up individually on rockets and put together from 1998 to 2000
- Ever since the year 2000, people have lived on the ISS
- Nasa uses the station to learn about living and working in space
- It is approximately 250 miles above Earth and orbits around the planet just like a satellite
- Living inside the ISS is said to be like living inside a big house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, lots of science labs and a big bay window for viewing Earth
For Android fans, Satellite Tracker should do the trick (it's also available on iPhone).
Simply head outside at the scheduled time for the Crew Dragon or ISS flyby, load up one of the apps and you should be able to spot them.
For upcoming ISS passes, you can visit Nasa's SpotTheStation website and enter your location.
Nasa SpaceX launch today – what is it and why is it important?
Nasa currently sends astronauts into space by piggybacking on launches of Russian Soyuz rockets from an air base in Kazakhstan.
The US space agency last fired one of its own astronauts into space in 2011.
Nasa retired its astronaut-carrying space shuttles that year to make way for a new space exploration program aimed at sending man to asteroids and other deep-space targets.
However, multiple delays to its development schedule have left the space agency without a way to carry out manned space flights for years.
Nasa hopes to fill the gap with spacecraft launched by private companies such as SpaceX, owned by Musk, and Blue Origin, run by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.
Nasa astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will make their way to a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Centre on May 27.
The ultimate aim of the mission is to dock a SpaceX craft containing the astronauts on the International Space Station.b
They will be ferried to the spacecraft on its launchpad in Florida inside a Tesla Model X electric car sporting the Nasa logo.
That's because billionaire SpaceX boss Elon Musk is also CEO of Tesla.
Hurley and Behnken will take a special elevator up 230ft to a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop the awaiting rocket.
When the countdown hits zero, the rocket will blast into space – carrying astronauts into orbit from US soil for the first time since 2011.
Once in orbit, the Crew Dragon capsule carrying Hurley and Behnken will separate from the rocket booster.
As is customary for SpaceX flights, the booster will turn around and return to Earth so it can be refurbished and used on a future mission.
"Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station," Nasa said.
"Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things."
About 24 hours after launch, Crew Dragon will be in position to dock with the space station.
It can do this automatically but astronauts have the option to take control themselves if something goes wrong.
"After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew," Nasa continued.
"They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew."
The Crew Dragon capsule will remain docked on the ISS until it's needed to take astronauts back to Earth.
Nasa has not yet selected a date for the return flight.
What is SpaceX?
SpaceX is a cash-flushed rocket company that wants to take man to Mars.
It was set up by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk in 2002 and is based in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX's first aim was to build rockets that could autonomously land back on Earth and be re-used.
Musk hoped the technology would make flying and operating space flights far cheaper.
SpaceX currently uses its reusable rockets to fly cargo to the International Space Station for Nasa.
It also carries satellites and other space tech into orbit for various international governments and companies.
The company will take astronauts up to the ISS for the first time in 2020.
Other future missions involve carrying tourists and astronauts to the Moon.
Musk has repeatedly said he believes humanity must colonise Mars to save itself from extinction.
He plans to get a SpaceX rocket to the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.
In other news, a tropical storm grounded a key SpaceX launch twice last week.
Nasa recently unveiled the Tesla car that will be ferrying astronauts to tonight's historic launch.
And, incredible photos of eerie Martian landscapes have been released online by scientists.
Are you excited for the SpaceX launch? Let us know in the comments!
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