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SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule gets NASA thumbs-up for March test flight

The Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission passes NASA flight readiness scrutiny.

spacex-falcon-9-crew-dragon-nasa

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft attached, rolls out of the hangar at NASA Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX

NASA and SpaceX got together on Friday and scrutinized the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission to determine if it's truly ready to launch to the International Space Station in March. So far, so good.

The result of the flight readiness reviews is that NASA is confirming the targeted launch time of 11:48 p.m. Pacific on Friday, Mar. 1 (2:48 a.m. Eastern on Saturday, Mar. 2) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule will ride to space on a Falcon 9 rocket.

Crew Dragon won't have any humans on board for this initial test flight, but it will carry supplies and equipment to the ISS. The mission was previously delayed several times.

The Crew Dragon is part of the NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which involves SpaceX and Boeing developing spacecraft capable of taking astronauts to orbit from US soil. NASA has been paying for rides to the ISS on Russian Soyuz spacecraft since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

NASA says the reviews included discussions of the flight plan, procedures and redundancies built into the spacecraft systems.

"This is a big milestone for us today," ISS program manager Kirk Shireman said. "We think this vehicle is in excellent shape and we're ready to have it on board the International Space Station."

Crew Dragon is scheduled to spend five days docked at the ISS and then return to Earth carrying research samples. If everything works out, it will land in the Atlantic Ocean for recovery.

If SpaceX's crew capsule passes all of its tests, it will be used to take actual astronauts into orbit as soon as mid-2019. This would signal the start of a new era of spaceflight for the US.