CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – NASA and SpaceX have chosen May 27 to resume the launch of US astronauts after nine years of total Russian dependence.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the launch date on Friday. Astronauts have not launched into orbit from the United States since the last flight of NASA’s space shuttle in 2011. SpaceX aims to end the drought by sending two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.
“On May 27, NASA will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil! Bridenstine tweeted.
Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will take off on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, departing from the same Kennedy Space Center launch pad used by the Atlantis shuttle in July 2011, as well as photos of the Apollo moon ago a half-century. Hurley was the pilot of this latest shuttle mission and will be the spacecraft commander for the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule.
The launch day will be a Wednesday, with a take-off time at 4.32pm. EDT. It is too early to know whether the coronavirus pandemic will result in crowd restrictions.
Only three countries have put people into orbit since 1961: Russia, the United States and China, in this order. SpaceX would be the first company.
SpaceX successfully completed its first test flight of a Dragon crew capsule a year ago, sending the capsule – minus one crew – to the space station. The overturned capsule was accidentally destroyed during ground tests at Cape Canaveral, further delaying the launch of the astronaut.
With the space station crew now three, Hurley and Behnken will spend weeks, if not months, helping to keep the lab in orbit. The duration of their mission is still under review, according to NASA.
NASA, meanwhile, is buying another seat on a Russian rocket. Russian Soyuz capsules have been the crew’s only means of transportation to and from the space station since 2011.
SpaceX has been using Falcon 9 rockets to launch cargoes to the space station in the company’s original Dragon capsules since 2012. NASA turned to private companies for deliveries after the shuttle program ended.
Boeing is also working on launching astronauts as part of NASA’s commercial crew program, but the company’s efforts suffered a serious setback after last December’s botched test flight. Launched with no one on board, the Boeing Starliner capsule failed to reach the space station after ending up in the wrong orbit and was nearly destroyed twice due to software errors.
Boeing plans to repeat the test flight, again without astronauts, this fall.
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