The historic launch that would take NASA astronauts to the ISS from US soil has been cleared for launch next week despite the coronavirus pandemic and the departure of the agency’s human spaceflight lead. It’ll be the first time astronauts will take off from the US since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011, when they started hitching rides on Russian Soyuz capsules.
NASA officials gave the go-ahead on Friday for SpaceX and the agency to continue preparations for a historic liftoff of two astronauts on a rocket from Florida to the International Space Station next week.
The launch, scheduled for 4:33 p.m. on Wednesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, may be the start of a new era in spaceflight, one in which NASA relies on private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch astronauts a task it used to handle itself.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Crew Dragon spacecraft taking the astronauts to the ISS are already positioned at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. SpaceX has just test-fired the Falcon 9’s first-stage engines as part of the final series of tests needed before launch. The Demo-2 mission team still has to complete a final readiness review, which will incorporate data from the critical static fire test, on May 25th. Unless something goes wrong, though, the Crew Dragon will be heading to orbit.