The NASA-SpaceX collaboration marks a historic moment for the US space agency, which has relied on Russia’s Soyuz rockets to put humans in orbit for nine years. But this could change on May 27 with the launch of two astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. On Thursday, May 21, a Falcon 9 rocket that will carry the astronauts to space was prepped for launch.
The SpaceX rocket was raised into vertical position at the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Florida.
The reusable rocket will propel the Crew Dragon towards the International Space Station (ISS) at more than 17,000mph.
The mission, dubbed Demo-2, is organised under NASA’s Commercial Crew programme.
NASA said: “The flight test will serve as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system.”
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Launching on the flight are astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, both of whom are two-time Space Shuttle flight veterans.
On May 20, the astronauts appeared with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to talk about the significance of the mission.
NASA said: “A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.”
Mr Hurley, who flew Space Shuttle Atlantis on its last voyage in 2011, said it is an incredible time for the US to resume spaceflight operations.
A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin
The astronaut added: “We feel it as an opportunity but also a responsibility for the American people, for the SpaceX team, for all of NASA.”
The astronauts will soar into space and dock with the ISS for an unspecified amount of time.
Their mission could see them join fellow astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner for up to four months.
The ISS, which zips around the planet some 250 miles up in space, can host between six and nine astronauts at once.
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NASA’s ability to put humans in orbit was cut short in 2011 when President Barack Obama retired the Space Shuttle programme.
After 135 flights and two catastrophic disasters that killed 14 astronauts, the last shuttle crew flew on April 8, 2011.
Since then, NASA has explored commercial opportunities for US companies to deliver safe and reliable spacecraft.
SpaceX and Boeing were selected for the task with SpaceX developing the Crew Dragon and Boeing developing its CST-100 Starliner capsule.
SpaceX’s May 27 launch will mark the Crew Dragon’s second flight to the ISS.
In May 2019, the capsuled was launched to the orbital laboratory without a crew.
The capsule was successfully docked with the spacecraft where it remained attached for a week.
Mr Bridenstine said this week the launch will be an inspiring moment for all.
He said: “You really are a bright light for all of America right now.”
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