- SpaceX will launch four NASA astronauts and one astronaut from Japan’s JAXA space agency on its first operational crewed mission to the International Space Station.
- The launch is tentatively scheduled for later this year but will entirely depend on the success of SpaceX’s crewed test flight slated to take place in late May.
- It’s unclear if the coronavirus pandemic will affect the test or operational launch dates, but for the moment the schedule remains intact.
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SpaceX’s first operational crewed launch for NASA will include a total of four astronauts. This is up from the previous total of just two and was announced via a NASA press release. The space agency revealed the addition of NASA’s Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The pair will be joining the previously-announced duo of NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover Jr.
All four travelers will be making their way to the International Space Station via a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch will mark the first operational mission for SpaceX and will come after the first SpaceX crewed test flight, which is currently scheduled to launch by late May.
SpaceX’s crewed test flight will set the tone for NASA’s future crewed launches from US soil. The space agency has been in desperate need of a way to launch astronauts into space without relying on Russia’s Roscosmos to sell seats aboard its own rockets.
SpaceX and Boeing were both hired by NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program to develop spacecraft capable of safely sending astronauts to the International Space Station on a regular basis. In the early days of the race between the two companies, Boeing appeared to be leading the charge. Unfortunately, a series of mishaps and delays has given SpaceX a sizeable lead and, pending the successful crewed test flight in May, the company will indeed be the first to meet NASA’s demands.
This mission will be the first in a series of regular, rotational flights to the station following NASA’s certification of the new crewed system following completion and validation of SpaceX’s test flight with astronauts, known as Demo-2. This test is expected to take place in mid-to-late May as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
With the ongoing public health crisis sweeping the globe, it’s hard to say just how realistic any of these dates really are. It’s a complicated situation, and NASA has already had to delay some things and send its staff home from many of its centers. Nevertheless, the agency says that the SpaceX test launch is indeed still on schedule, at least for the time being. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that nothing changes on that front.