NASA, SpaceX aim for March test of 1st new astronaut capsule

SpaceX engineers prepare to roll a Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon to Launch Complex 39A

SpaceX engineers prepare to roll a Falcon 9 with Crew Dragon to Launch Complex 39A

In a statement, NASA said that the initial uncrewed test flight by SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, previously scheduled for no earlier February 23, was now scheduled for no earlier than March 2.

NASA has made SpaceX and Boeing responsible for transporting astronauts starting this year.

The revised dates, NASA said in its statement, "allow for completion of necessary hardware testing, data verification, remaining NASA and provider reviews, as well as training of flight controllers and mission managers".

Though they're essentially practice runs, they're still big launches, as the Commercial Crew Program will eventually be used to take astronauts from the United States to the International Space Station.

NASA's final now contracted Soyuz flight is scheduled for launch in July.

SpaceX had been targeting February 23 for Crew Dragon's shakeout cruise to the ISS, an uncrewed flight called Demo-1.

NASA's commercial crew program has been delayed repeatedly over the years, forcing a lengthy, expensive reliance on Russian rockets.

SpaceX test fired the engines of a Falcon 9 rocket last month at the Kennedy Space Center's historic pad 39A to clear the way for the first test flight of the company's Crew Dragon astronaut ferry ship. The date for SpaceX's initial launch, also known as Demo-1, has slipped almost two months, from January 7 to March 2, since NASA announced that January 7 launch date November 21.

Before launching with humans aboard, however, SpaceX must perform a no-load mission.

For the initial SpaceX test flight, the Dragon will depart five days after docking, plunging back into the atmosphere for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.

Assuming the in-flight test goes well and no other major problems crop up, NASA and SpaceX hope to launch another Crew Dragon this summer, this one carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the station. The test flight had been planned for mid June, but sources say it's now targeted for July.

Boeing, meanwhile, plans to launch its CST-100 Starliner capsule on its first unpiloted test fight in April. Unlike the Crew Dragon, the Starliner is created to land in the western United States using parachutes and airbags. Astronauts haven't launched to orbit from American soil since July 2011, when NASA retired its space shuttle fleet.

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