NASA Approves SpaceX Commercial Crew Test Flight for March 2

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NASA Approves SpaceX Commercial Crew Test Flight for March 2

After a flight readiness review Friday, NASA and SpaceX have chose to proceed with plans to conduct Demo-1, the first uncrewed test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Russia, NASA's main partner on the station, has raised concerns about this, noting that if this system goes out the spacecraft might drift and crash into the station.

Among the topics under discussion were the Crew Dragon's parachute system and testing to certify it for use in the upcoming piloted mission, temperature-related issues with the capsule's maneuvering thrusters and the status of redesigned high-pressure helium tanks, known as COPVs, that are submerged in super-cold liquid oxygen inside the Falcon 9 rocket.

"After a day of briefings and discussions, NASA and SpaceX proceed with plans to conduct the first test flight of the Dragon Crew without crew on the global space station", NASA said in a statement.

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

"We're going for launch, we're going for docking", said William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator with NASA Human Exploration and Operations. Two NASA astronauts will be in the spacecraft then, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

A Falcon 9 rocket will be used to launch Crew Dragon. Those and other risks present "serious challenges" to SpaceX's launch schedule, including a possible manned flight of its Crew Dragon spacecraft this summer.

NASA has waited a long time for this moment, since July, 2011, when the space shuttle made its final flight and the agency retired the venerable vehicles. The private company had to overhaul its cargo capsule for astronauts.

The final now contracted U.S. Soyuz flight is scheduled for launch in July.

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.

NASA signed contracts in 2014 with SpaceX and Boeing for the companies to shuttle United States astronauts to the ISS.

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