SpaceX is about to launch four astronauts in the first human-rated commercial spacecraft.
This will not be SpaceX’s first human mission. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley boarded the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft this summer, flew into Earth orbit, and docked at the International Space Station. After two months of living and working on the space station, they boarded the Crew Dragon, screamed into the atmosphere and parachuted safely to Earth.
But the entire mission was considered a demo, a critical step in achieving NASA human spaceflight certification.
On Tuesday, NASA announced that it has finally certified SpaceX’s entire launch system for human spaceflight.
That decision was the result of the agency’s readiness to fly review, in which experts and officials spent two days reviewing SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft, software and mission operations.
The certification came just days before SpaceX’s next planned astronaut launch, scheduled for Saturday. The company has already perched a new crew dragon on the rocket in preparation for that mission, its longest and most critical. Called Crew-1, the round-trip mission to the space station is the first of six that Elon Musk’s rocket company has entered into with NASA.
“People tend to think it’s just the spaceship, but it’s the spaceship, it’s the launch vehicle, it’s all the processing on the ground, it’s the way you do your mission operations. All of that will make you fly in. security our crew to the International Space Station and back and then recover, “Kathy Lueders, who leads NASA’s human spaceflight program, said at a news conference Tuesday. “You showed us the data and we trust you. It’s a big trust factor here.”
If time permits, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch the Crew Dragon into space Saturday at 7:49 PM ET. On board will be astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. They are expected to dock at the space station eight and a half hours later, where they will remain for about six months, marking the longest human space flight in US history.
When it’s time to go home, the astronauts will board the Crew Dragon, which will remain attached to the space station during their stay, then suffer a fiery fall through Earth’s atmosphere.
“The lives of the crew are in our hands – a very important responsibility,” Lueders said.
This is the first time NASA has certified a human flight system since the Space Shuttle program began nearly 40 years ago. The decision was the culmination of 10 years of development and testing funded through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which was created to restore US human-space flight capabilities through commercial partnerships. The government has spent more than $ 6 billion on this effort, according to The Planetary Society. The program could finally realize its goal with the launch on Saturday.
“Thanks to NASA for their continued support of SpaceX and the partnership in achieving this goal,” Musk said in a press release. “I could not be prouder of everyone at SpaceX and all of our suppliers who worked hard to develop, test and fly the first commercial human spaceflight system in history to be certified by NASA. This is a great honor that inspires confidence in our attempt to return to the moon, travel to Mars and ultimately help humanity become multi-planetary. “