In the State of the Union address that took place this week, US President Donald Trump promised to send US astronauts back to space on board American rockets. Fortunately, NASA now has an official launch date. Agency picked March 2, 2019, as the date for the first uncrewed test flight, and the first crewed mission will deploy sometime in July 2019. However, the exact date has not yet been revealed.
The USA has not launched any astronauts since NASA’s longstanding shuttle program ended in 2011. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has been collaborating with SpaceX during January to ensure they are prepared to learn vital information that will help them safely fly their crews, according to officials.
The “Crew Dragon” capsule designed by SpaceX will be used for both the test launch and the crewed launch. On the second launch, two US astronauts will be sent to the International Space Station.
CCP manager Kathy Lueders explained that many essential steps still must be completed before launch, but everyone is very excited about these launches. NASA will work through their test flight preparations and readiness reviews so they can see the hardware they have worked with in all stages: development, integration, and ground testing, move into flight.
NASA stated the July launch would not only be historical, but less expensive too.
The space agency announced that NASA’s Commercial Crew Program would bring human spaceflight launches back to US soil and offer safe, dependable, and less expensive access to low-Earth orbit and the space station using systems that meet safety and performance standards.
NASA officials also explained that the first two SpaceX flights would serve as dress rehearsals for future missions where astronauts will be on board.
NASA is also looking at launching astronauts into space with capsules built by Boeing. However, the first crewed flight is not expected to happen until at least August 2019. But an uncrewed test is set to take place in April.
Once the test flights are done, NASA will go over the performance data and fix any significant problems to certify the systems for operational missions. The space agency concluded that as with the development of all vehicles for human spaceflight, learning from each test and making modifications as needed to reduce any risk to the crew overrides scheduled launch dates.
Picture credit: SpaceX