NASA has officially certified the first commercial spacecraft system in history capable of carrying humans to and from the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
Tuesday’s certification confirmation comes just days before the Crew Dragon is due to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with four astronauts on board for a six-month stay at the space station.
The U.S. space agency said the Crew Dragon capsule, together with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems, is the first crew spacecraft to be NASA-certified for regular astronaut flights since the Space Shuttle almost 40 years ago.
Elon Musk, the man who founded SpaceX back in 2002 with the dream of creating a reusable rocket system for more cost-effective space travel, said his SpaceX team had worked “incredibly hard to develop, test, and fly the first commercial human spaceflight system in history to be certified by NASA,” adding that the achievement “inspires confidence in our endeavor to return to the moon, travel to Mars, and ultimately help humanity become multi-planetary.”
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said he felt proud that his team has been able to return regular human spaceflight launches to American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft. “This certification milestone is an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX that highlights the progress we can make working together with commercial industry,” the NASA boss added.
The Crew Dragon, Falcon 9, and associated systems had to overcome a series of challenges to gain the certification, including uncrewed flight tests, parachute tests, simulations such as pad and mid-air abort tests to save the astronauts in the event of a critical anomaly, and NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight over the summer with astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley.
Whereas NASA used to purchase, own, and operate all of its hardware for space travel, the launch of the Commercial Crew Program nearly a decade ago means the space agency is now a customer dealing with players in the American aerospace industry developing and operating next-generation spacecraft and launch systems for carrying astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit.
NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission will be the first flight to use the certified SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft when it lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, November 14. Find out more about how to watch the launch live.
Aboard the Crew Dragon will be NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, together with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
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