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SpaceX Crew Dragon preps for 'extremely intense' first test flight

Elon Musk warns early flights can be dangerous as the capsule and Falcon 9 rocket go vertical on the launchpad for a major NASA test mission.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule gets ready ahead of an uncrewed test flight.

SpaceX

The last time astronauts launched from US soil was back in 2011 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. SpaceX and NASA just took another step toward bringing crewed launches back. 

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is atop a Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule and rocket are now vertical on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

SpaceX and its founder Elon Musk both shared images of the capsule sitting pretty. "Falcon 9 on launch pad with Crew Dragon & new astronaut walkway," Musk wrote on Sunday.

Musk then clarified, "Sorry, to be clear, this pic is all real. Nothing rendered." The SpaceX entrepreneur responded to a question asking if there will be cameras on the walkway by saying, "Yes, will be extremely intense. Early flights are especially dangerous, as there's a lot of new hardware."

SpaceX shared a particularly gorgeous shot of the Falcon 9 against a backdrop of rosy clouds.

falcon9launchpad

Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon get ready for a test flight.

SpaceX

SpaceX hopes to make history from Launch Complex 39A, which also hosted the launch of the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969 and the first space shuttle mission in 1981.

Musk, known for his quirky sense of humor, tweeted an image that appears to show the doorway to the Crew Dragon with an amusement park-style sign reading, "You must be at least this tall to ride."

You must be at least this tall to ride on the Crew Dragon.

Elon Musk

The SpaceX Demo-1 Commercial Crew mission is scheduled to launch on Jan. 17 after getting pushed back from its original Jan. 7 date. Launch dates are notoriously fickle, so there may be further delays, especially in light of the ongoing US government shutdown.

There will be no humans on board for this mission. NASA and SpaceX will gather data on how the rocket and spacecraft perform through the launch, in orbit, and with docking at the International Space Station and then returning to Earth. 

If all goes well, SpaceX and NASA hope to send astronauts into orbit inside the Crew Dragon later in the year. Boeing is also working on its own capsule and is aiming for an uncrewed Starliner test flight this spring.

First published Jan. 7, 8:40 a.m. PT.
Update, 2:40 p.m. PT: Adds Musk comment about danger of mission. 

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