United States astronauts heading back to space on American rockets in July

Pablo Tucker
February 9, 2019

SpaceX and Boeing are developing commercial space capsules - called Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, respectively - to carry NASA astronauts to and from the orbiting lab.

In January, SpaceX successfully completed a static fire test of its Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon atop the rocket at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A in Florida, in preparation for Demo-1.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX's planned test flight of a capsule created to carry astronauts to the International Space Station was pushed back Wednesday by a week, with NASA officials saying liftoff is now set for March 2.

The uncrewed demonstration launch of Crew Dragon is now set for March 2 and Starliner will perform a similar launch no earlier than April.

NASA said that work toward the commercial crew test launches continued during the month of January and was not affected by the record-setting shutdown of the federal government that lasted from December 22 to Jan. 25.

Crew Dragon's crew-carrying demonstration is now scheduled for July, and Starliner's for no earlier than August, according to the new NASA update. The capsule, which was supposed to go to the International Space Station (ISS) on January 7, has been delayed twice already since then, Engadget reported.

For SpaceX's test flight, NASA assigned Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, both members of several Endeavour and Atlantis missions.

The Crew Dragon will blast off towards the ISS for two weeks in a bid to prove its reliability and safety in carrying astronauts into space.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to US soil, providing safe, reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit and the space station on systems that meet safety and performance requirements.

The revised dates, NASA said in its statement, "allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers". After the uncrewed flight tests, Boeing and SpaceX will complete a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

NASA's commercial crew program has been delayed repeatedly over the years, forcing a lengthy, expensive reliance on Russian rockets. The Starliner capsule, meanwhile, is also undergoing testing.

NASA's final now contracted Soyuz flight is scheduled for launch in July.

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