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Elon Musk says SpaceX Crew Dragon could be almost ready by Christmas

NASA has been growing impatient over delays to its Commercial Crew program to fly to the International Space Station from the US once again.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon will head to the ISS on its first test flight.

NASA could receive a nice holiday present at Cape Canaveral in just a few months. 

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, its Crew Dragon spacecraft could be nearly ready to carry its first astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station by the end of the year. 

"The SpaceX schedule, which I've just reviewed in depth, shows Falcon & Dragon at the Cape & all testing done in (about) 10 weeks," Musk wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Musk went on to add that an uncrewed launch to test Crew Dragon's in-flight abort system should happen in late November or early December. An actual launch of a Crew Dragon with astronauts aboard has not yet been scheduled, but Musk has said the craft could be ready to fly a human crew in early 2020.

The update was in response to a post by Ars Technica's Eric Berger, who wrote:

"Source says 'full panic has ensued' as NASA realizes commercial crew may not be ready in first half of 2020; and [former NASA head of human exploration and operations Bill] Gerstenmeier is no longer around to help the companies along, or negotiate with Russians for more Soyuz seats. Focus on Artemis may put ISS program in real danger."

Now playing: Watch this: SpaceX: Watch Crew Dragon capsule dock at ISS for the...

When asked for a comment about Musk's and Berger's claims, the agency responded:

"NASA and our partners want to fly astronauts as quickly as we can without compromising the safety of our astronauts, and always will give safety precedence over schedule...NASA expects to update flight timelines as new leadership in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate is selected. However, NASA is not holding back flight tests for new leadership. Those dates are set between NASA and our commercial provider, and only when both are ready will we fly."

NASA's commercial crew program aims to return human spaceflight to US shores via contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to launch astronauts to the ISS via new spacecraft. But the effort has been fraught with drama as testing and completion of both spaceships fell behind schedule and a Crew Dragon exploded during an uncrewed ground test.

Then, in September, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine publicly prodded Musk on Twitter during the buildup to the big SpaceX Starship presentation at Boca Chica, Texas. Musk fired back with a jab about NASA's chronically late Space Launch System rocket.

NASA, Boeing and SpaceX had all originally hoped to get commercial crew launches going in 2019. It now seems that 2020 is far more likely and NASA will be eager to make sure the new vehicles are ready to go next year. That's because NASA's agreement with the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos to transport astronauts between Earth and orbit is down to its last launch, currently scheduled for March.

Originally published Oct. 8.
Update, Oct. 9: Adds response from NASA.