Nasa SpaceX crew mission cleared to launch

A review panel finds no technical reason to delay the first US orbital crew launch in nine years.

By Jonathan Amos • bbcnews
May 22, 2020 3 minSource

Key officials at the American space agency (Nasa) and private launch firm SpaceX have signed off next week's historic mission to the space station.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will ride to orbit from Florida - the first time in nine years that humans have left Earth from US territory.

A review panel has found no technical reason to delay the mission.

SpaceX's Falcon-9 rocket with its Dragon capsule is set to lift off at 16:33 EDT (21:33 BST) on Wednesday.

The "go" decision of the Flight Readiness Review panel opens the way for final launch preparations to proceed.

Already, the Falcon has been rolled out to the Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A, and lifted into the vertical.

The transfer on Thursday allows SpaceX engineers to now conduct a static fire. This will see the vehicle ignite briefly all nine of its engines to confirm their operational status.

Clamps will ensure the booster doesn't move in the test.

Another important pre-launch moment occurs on Saturday with the "Crew Dry Dress". This involves Hurley and Behnken getting into their spacesuits and rehearsing all the actions they must take next Wednesday, including strapping themselves into the Dragon capsule.

There is huge focus on this mission. Not since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011 has America been able to launch its own astronauts to the space station - a task that has rested solely with Russia and its Soyuz rocket and capsule system.

Nasa initiated a Commercial Crew Program just prior to the end days of the famous winged orbiters that sought to incentivise a new human transportation industry in the US.

The agency proposed to purchase launch services off private companies and gave them seed money to help develop their hardware.

SpaceX, run by the tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, is the first of the commercial operators to deliver a working system. The aerospace giant Boeing is some way behind in its progress, but should eventually match the SpaceX milestones.

For Nasa, this approach of contracting out astronaut transportation to low-Earth orbit has saved it many billions of dollars. The old way of doing things, which required the agency to purchase, own and operate its space vehicles, proved to be very expensive.

From now on, Nasa will simply buy seats in what are essentially private taxi services. Cash that's freed up can then be diverted to more complex endeavours such as preparing to take astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars.

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