WASHINGTON – Three NASA crew members and a Japanese astronaut are ready to launch aboard a SpaceX rocket on Saturday, bound for the International Space Station on the program’s first six-month routine mission since the United States resumed flight manned spacecraft in May after nine years of dependence on Russia.
NASA has officially certified as safe the Crew Dragon capsule developed for the regular transport of astronauts by SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk that transported two astronauts to the ISS in May and back to Earth in August without major accidents.
“I am extremely proud to say that we are returning regular human spaceflight launches on American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
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Take-off is scheduled for 7:49 pm on Saturday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida with American astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi on board.
As of Tuesday evening, the weather forecast for Saturday was good.
They should arrive at the ISS eight hours later.
The mission marks a climax for SpaceX, configuring it to be NASA’s favored – and thus far most trusted – transportation service provider as the agency awaits Boeing’s Starliner capsule, which has been held in testing and is not expected to be ready before l ‘next year.
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SpaceX has been operating space station refueling flights with the cargo version of the Dragon since 2012.
“For the next 15 months, we will carry out seven manned and cargo Dragon missions for NASA,” SpaceX manned flight chief Benji Reed said during a phone call Tuesday.
“This means that (from December) starting with Crew-1, there will be a continued presence of SpaceX Dragons in orbit.”
The next manned mission is expected to take off at the end of March 2021, with one European, one Japanese and two American crew members on board.