Following stringent safety reviews, NASA and SpaceX have finally approved a first test flight of the commercial Dragon capsule for March 2nd. The capsule, designed for crew, will have no one aboard except a SpaceX dummy.
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In the mission, named Demo-1, the capsule will fly to the International Space Station. "We need to make sure that [Dragon] can safely go rendezvous and dock with the space station, and undock safely, and not pose a hazard to the International Space Station," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, during a news conference.
Commercial Crew's first uncrewed flight test
The mission will mark the first uncrewed flight test of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Its aim is to provide crucial data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft, hopefully leading to NASA certifying SpaceX’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts.
“It’s exciting to have set the launch for March 2nd,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, during the conference. “It’s great that we’re getting ready to go do this."
A strong focus on safety
Gerstenmaier added that a lot of work has gone into ensuring that the capsule is safe for both the space station and the three astronauts on board. In NASA's statement, the agency outlined the safety precautions it would be taking for each mission.
"Following each flight, NASA will review performance data to ensure each upcoming mission is as safe as possible. After completion of all test flights, NASA will continue its review of the systems and flight data for certification ahead of the start of regular crewed flights to the space station," read the statement.
A second manned mission, named Demo-2, is targeted to launch in July of 2019. In the meantime, this mission will see the capsule docked at the International Space Station for just under a week, before returning to Earth with science samples and used equipment. Bon voyage we say!