Entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch two American astronauts to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, ending the US space agency’s nine-year hiatus in human spaceflight.
California-based SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and its Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 4.33pm local time on Wednesday from the same launch pad used by NASA’s last space shuttle mission in 2011.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will view the launch in person, a White House spokesman said.
For Musk, SpaceX and NASA, a safe flight would mark a milestone in the quest to produce reusable spacecraft that can make space travel more affordable.
A new era of human spaceflight begins this week 🚀
Today, our #LaunchAmerica mission passed its final major review & teams received the “go” to proceed toward launch on May 27. @AstroBehnken & @Astro_Doug will fly aboard @SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft: https://t.co/BeSFgRAEZn pic.twitter.com/4Vqu68pV0e
— NASA (@NASA) May 26, 2020
Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla Inc.
“Bob and I have been working on this program for five years, day in and day out,” said Hurley, 53, as he and Behnken, 49, arrived at the Kennedy Space Centre from Houston last week.
“It’s been a marathon in many ways, and that’s what you’d expect to develop a human-rated space vehicle that can go to and from the International Space Station.”
NASA, hoping to stimulate a commercial space marketplace, awarded $US3.1 billion ($4.74 billion) to SpaceX and $US4.5 billion ($6.9 billion) to Boeing Co to develop duelling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule is not expected to launch its first crew until 2021.
#LaunchAmerica: We’re sending U.S. astronauts to the @Space_Station on a U.S. rocket from U.S. soil at 4:33pm ET on Wednesday, May 27. Here’s how you can watch: https://t.co/ChRxWaIkNP pic.twitter.com/PXTBqcAD85
— NASA (@NASA) May 25, 2020
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine declared the mission a “go” last week at Kennedy Space Centre after the space agency and SpaceX officials convened for final engineering checks.
SpaceX successfully tested Crew Dragon without astronauts last year in its first orbital mission to the space station.
That vehicle was destroyed the following month during a ground test when one of the valves for its abort system burst, causing an explosion that triggered a nine-month engineering investigation that ended in January.