Article image NASA greenlights SpaceX crew capsule test to ISS

Katie Ramirez
February 26, 2019

NASA on Friday gave SpaceX the green light to test a new crew capsule by first sending an unmanned craft with a life-sized mannequin to the International Space Station.

"That's the basic concern the Russians brought up, why isn't there a separate system or separate box to go provide this backup capability? We always learn from tests", Lueders added. The impact of seeing the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon drove home how close SpaceX is from sending astronauts to the space station.

But the safety criteria for manned flights are higher, and NASA said that the Crew Dragon still has some problems, including with its parachutes.

Ovchinin and Hague suffered a dramatic Soyuz booster malfunction during their initial climb to space last October, but the capsule and crew landed safety about 250 miles from the launch site in Kazakhstan.

During the same press briefing, William Gerstenmaier, the NASA associate administrator, explained that Russia's concerns were related to the U.S. agency's lack of a backup computer system to prevent Crew Dragon from colliding with the ISS if the vehicle goes dead.

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"The vehicle is not totally qualified for a crew flight, but we know the hardware is good enough for this flight", said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA's chief of human spaceflight. Anticipating potential weather or technical issues, SpaceX should have three opportunities to launch between March 2 and March 9, but if it misses this window it's not clear when the company would have another attempt. Two NASA astronauts will be in the spacecraft then, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

There will be no crew for the Demo-1 flight of Crew Dragon. The private company had to overhaul its cargo capsule for astronauts.

NASA also is funding development of a Boeing capsule known as the CST-100 Starliner that is scheduled for an unpiloted launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket later this spring. The capsule will be weighted similarly to how a Crew Dragon will be when it has astronauts on board, and it will also be carrying a test dummy, suited up in one of SpaceX's custom flight suits.

The current schedule calls for a launch at 2:48 a.m.

In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were awarded a combined $6.8 billion in contracts from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of flying crews to the space station.

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