NASA, SpaceX set for critical test flight

Pablo Tucker
February 26, 2019

After a flight readiness review Friday, NASA and SpaceX have chose to proceed with plans to conduct Demo-1, the first uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

William Gerstenmaier, Nasa's associate administrator for human exploration, said agency officials will follow up with their Russian counterparts about the safeguards that are in place in case of a failure.

NASA managers have given their approval for SpaceX to proceed with an uncrewed test flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft on March 2. Since the Shuttle program ended, NASA has relied on Russian Federation to ferry its astronauts to and from low Earth orbit - an expensive arrangement that limited the types of missions NASA could run.

When Boeing or SpaceX launch NASA astronauts it will mark the first time an American has launched to low Earth orbit from US soil since 2011.

Gerstenmaier added that a lot of work has gone into ensuring that the capsule is safe for both the space station and the three astronauts on board.

This decision removed a key obstacle for SpaceX in its efforts to help NASA to revive the American program of manned flight into space, stalled after the Shuttle mission ended in 2011.

The March 2 flight will be identical to a flight that is set to take two astronauts to the ISS later in the year, possibly in July.

Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2, is a reusable spacecraft designed as a successor to the Dragon space freighter. This Demo-1 mission must launch successfully, dock to the International Space Station about 24 hours later, and then return to Earth a few days later under parachutes in lighted conditions. Although Lueders and the other NASA officials are comfortable with the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft for this test flight, there are still some issues they want to close out before astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken launch into space on an identical rocket and capsule. SpaceX has already made more than a dozen unmanned trips since 2012 carrying supplies to the ISS with the cargo version of the Dragon capsule.

"This vehicle, inside, has a lot of instrumentation", Kathy Lueders, said during a press conference at Kennedy Space Center today.

"So now we're going back and we're proving to ourselves that this breaking is so unlikely it's not going to be a concern".

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