The Crew Dragon forms a key part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, incorporating next-generation SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft to ferry U.S. astronauts to and from the ISS. The launch and docking is the first real test of the craft and the Commercial Crew Program as a whole.
Boeing is also in the race to end NASA's eight-year drought of launching USA astronauts on United States rockets from U.S. soil.
I guarantee everything will not work exactly right and that's cool.
Now, Elon Musk's SpaceX is readying for the test of a lifetime with the test launch of its new crew capsule.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft is rolled out to Launch Complex 39A for a dry run to prep for the upcoming Demo-1 flight test at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on January 3, 2019.
With an instrumented astronaut test dummy nicknamed "Ripley" strapped into one of the Crew Dragon's four seats, liftoff from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center is targeted for 2:49 a.m. EST (GMT-5) Saturday. No bulky orange flight suits left over from NASA's space shuttle program.
The six-day test flight is a crucial step in SpaceX's plan to provide human spaceflight. Ripley is similar to Starman, which blasted off previous year in the driver's seat of Musk's red Tesla convertible, on a test launch of the company's bigger Falcon Heavy rocket.
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The first Crew Dragon to carry people is due to launch in July, and the astronauts who will fly that Demo-2 mission - Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley - will be watching the Demo-1 flight from its launch control center.
William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, said at a news conference last week that the launch "is an absolutely critical first step". Liftoff is now scheduled for 2:49am EST from Kennedy Space Center.
Its destination is the International Space Station, which it is scheduled to reach by Sunday, with a return to Earth next Friday. Once it successfully docks, it will stay there for about five days full of roughly 400 lbs of supplies for the astronauts on board the station.
Just because SpaceX is first off the pad doesn't mean it will launch astronauts before Boeing. Boeing is targeting an April test flight of its Starliner capsule without crew, and a launch with three astronauts no earlier than August.
"The uncrewed flight tests are a great dry run for not only our hardware, but for our team to get ready for our crewed flight tests", Kathy Lueders, manager of the commercial crew program, said in a news release.
NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time since the U.S. Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.