by Axios | 3.1.19
On Saturday morning, the U.S. will take a key step toward restoring its capability to launch astronauts from its own soil when a SpaceX rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Why it matters: Returning launch capabilities of astronauts to U.S. soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011 will mean that NASA will no longer be dependent on Russian rockets for hitching rides to the Space Station, at a cost of about $75 million per seat. The reliance on Russian rockets has worked for NASA, but it's not an indefinite solution.
The big picture: The launch at 2:48 a.m. Saturday signals a passing of the baton from government-led space missions to public-private partnerships, in which billionaires like Elon Musk, who founded and leads SpaceX, will share the credit for U.S. space exploration.
Details: During the 6-day mission, SpaceX's Crew Dragon will attempt to dock autonomously with the ISS, thereby testing most of the capabilities of the crew transport system.
Yes, but: Before they can launch humans into space, SpaceX and Boeing must meet strict safety requirements, including limiting the risk of loss or permanent disability of crew to at-or-below a 1-in-270 chance.
"I fully expect we’re going to learn something on this flight," he said. "I guarantee everything will not work exactly right, and that’s cool. That’s exactly what we want to do.”
— Bill Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA’s human spaceflight program, during a pre-launch briefing
What to watch: NASA is overseeing and certifying these companies, but is now taking on the role of supporting player.
But this doesn't mean NASA will fade into the background, says Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, which promotes the development of the commercial space sector.
What's next: An in-flight, uncrewed abort test will take place after the demo-1 mission. Assuming all goes smoothly and the company meets certification requirements, then the first crewed SpaceX test flight to the ISS, with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board, could blast off as early as July. The Boeing timeline is proceeding at roughly the same pace, as well.
Written by Axios
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