By next weekend, the U.S. could be one step closer to launching astronauts from American soil again. After completing a critical safety review NASA officials said Friday they are moving ahead with the March 2 launch date for the maiden voyage of SpaceX’s astronaut-new “astronaut taxi”, known as Crew Dragon.NASA currently depends on Russian Soyuz rockets and spacecraft to get its astronauts to and from the ISS, at a cost of about $80 million (£60 million) per seat.
“We’re go for launch, we’re go for docking,” said William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator with NASA Human Exploration and Operations. SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon capsule from NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A at 2:49 a.m. Saturday. Air Force weather officials are forecasting an 80 percent chance for favorable launch conditions Saturday morning. NASA signed contracts in 2014 with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to shuttle US astronauts to the ISS. This will be the first time the US space agency lets a private-sector company transport their astronauts. NASA ended its space-shuttle program in 2011 and since then has relied on buying spots on Russian Soyuz rockets to send US astronauts to the orbiting ISS.
The SpaceX Demo-1 launch is one of the final steps before Crew Dragon can carry NASA astronauts to space. After launch, Crew Dragon will dock at the space station and then return to Earth five days later, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.Docking and undocking the spacecraft are a critical part of the test. SpaceX has been making supply deliveries for NASA since 2012 on a similar Dragon spacecraft. The Demo-1 Crew Dragon flight will also deliver supplies to the space station.SpaceX Build and Flight Reliability Vice President Hans Koenigsmann said the Crew Dragon Demo-1 spacecraft will carry one passenger inside the cabin: a flight-suit wearing mannequin. Koenigsmann said he didn’t know the name of the mannequin. If the March 2 launch goes well, NASA and SpaceX will review the test flight data and determine if any changes need to be made.
“Following a full day of briefings and discussion, NASA and SpaceX are proceeding with plans to conduct the first uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon on a mission to the International Space Station,” NASA said in a statement. “It will be the first time a commercially built and operated American rocket and spacecraft designed for humans will launch to the space station.”