NASA schedules historic first flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon

The three-person crew capsule will be sent into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Jan. 7.


NASA is poised to get one step closer to launching humans from the US for the first time in eight years with the news an uncrewed test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon will take place on Jan. 7.

The Crew Dragon, which can seat three astronauts, will be unpiloted on its first test flight and will then undergo an in-flight abort test sometime before its first crewed flight in June -- provided everything goes to plan. Earlier this month, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were kitted out in SpaceX spacesuits, learning the ins and outs of the Crew Dragon. They will be the first two astronauts to test the new spacecraft.

The launch will take place at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida, the site of many historic manned spaceflights, and aims to provide NASA with performance data from the two SpaceX spacecraft -- the Falcon 9 booster and the Crew Dragon. The data will allow NASA to certify that the transportation system is ready to begin ferrying astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station.

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NASA will also test Boeing's transportation spacecraft and rockets with an uncrewed Orbital Flight test taking place in March, with a Crew Flight Test currently penciled in for August 2019.

The Commercial Crew Program, a partnership program NASA is using to begin transporting humans back to space using the expertise of private aerospace industry allies, awarded contracts to Elon Musk's SpaceX and Boeing in 2014. The launch dates are part of NASA's plan to consistently update plans as first flight draws nearer.

Since retiring the space shuttle program in 2011, NASA astronauts have taxied to the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz rockets. The most recent Russian mission, MS-10, was carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, and had to make an emergency landing after the rocket booster experienced an abnormal separation.

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