SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule set for historic test flight

The uncrewed capsule launched from Florida following months of delays

Because the Dragon is being launched to the space station, there's no room for delay: If liftoff doesn't occur right on time, due to weather or a technical glitch, the launch will have to be reset for a backup opportunity on the night of March 4-5. NASA is providing $8 billion for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, billionaire Elon Musk will be nervously watching the skies as his rocket company SpaceX attempts its first launch of the Crew Dragon spaceship. Most assessments previously put Boeing ahead of SpaceX in the race to deliver their vehicle to NASA, but SpaceX will be the first to head to the International Space Station in a full showcase of what the spacecraft will have to do while being used by NASA.

I guarantee everything will not work exactly right and that's cool.

On Thursday, SpaceX and NASA got the Falcon 9 rocket upright at the historic Launch Complex 39A, the same pad many astronauts departed the planet from during NASA's Space Shuttle era.

The six-day test flight is a crucial step in SpaceX's plan to provide human spaceflight.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule set for historic test flight

There won't be any people on board this test, however: instead, the capsule will be home to a dummy called Ripley wearing a spacesuit and a bunch of data-collecting sensors, plus 400 lbs of supplies for the space station. It also brings a bit of anthropomorphic gender balance to SpaceX's test mannequins: For last year's maiden launch of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, the test payload included a Tesla Roadster with a dummy nicknamed "Starman" in the driver's seat.

"There are a lot of things you can prepare for on the ground, and through analysis and tests - and we do all that on the ground - but there's nothing like flying a mission to be able to really check out all the key systems ... to get ready for our next mission", Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA Commercial Crew Program, said last week during a news conference. Liftoff is now scheduled for 2:49am EST from Kennedy Space Center. The first Boeing mission to the International Space Station will be crewed by NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Suni Williams. It will then dock where the current astronauts on the station - including Canadian David Saint-Jacques - will unload the cargo.

After a five-day stay, the spacecraft will undock next Friday, March 8, plunging back into the atmosphere for a parachute descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 230 miles east of Cape Canaveral.

But a lot more is resting on this launch. The test launch, which is scheduled to take place early Saturday morning, will be a big deal for NASA and SpaceX regardless of the outcome, but it goes without saying that both groups have their fingers crossed for success.

NASA has selected a Dollars 42 million mission that will help scientists understand and, ultimately, forecast the vast space weather system around our planet. It will not be tested until April, in a mission similar to SpaceX's. Whichever company delivers astronauts first wins a small US flag left at the station by the last shuttle crew in 2011. Hurley will ride the Dragon and Ferguson the Starliner.



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