NASA Sees Months-Long Test for SpaceX’s Debut Flight With Humans

(Bloomberg) -- SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon flight carrying NASA astronauts could last several months as the space agency weighs its staffing needs on the International Space Station.

The May 27 test flight will be the first time NASA personnel blast off from the U.S. since the 2011 retirement of the Space Shuttle. It marks a significant milestone for the agency’s program to have two American companies provide ferry service to the space station. It will also be the first time SpaceX has flown humans.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to arrive at the space station on May 28 and stay for at least 30 days -- and possibly as long as 110, NASA said Friday during a day of media preview events. The mission duration will be determined by the readiness of the next commercial crew launch.

Ultimately, the Crew Dragon will be designed to stay in orbit as long as 210 days, although the test vehicle will only be able to go for 110.

In 2014, NASA awarded Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Boeing Co. contracts worth nearly $7 billion to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station. Russia has provided the sole crew transport since the Space Shuttle’s retirement.

To maintain a strong U.S. presence on the space station, and because of delays in Boeing’s and SpaceX’s development of their own commercial crew shuttles, the National Aeronautics amd Space Administration has been negotiating with Russia’s space agency to take an additional seat on its Soyuz shuttle next year. NASA has only one crew member currently aboard the station.

Last month, Boeing said it would conduct a second test flight, without crew, of its CST-100 Starliner vehicle after the first attempt in December was cut short by software glitches. That flight is planned for later this year.

Separately, SpaceX said Friday it had completed its 27th and final test of parachute upgrades for the Crew Dragon. The capsule is designed to splash down in the ocean after entry and descent.

The SpaceX Demo-2 mission is set to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 4:32 p.m. Eastern time May 27 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA won’t be able to accommodate thousands of space tourists, as it had once planned, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Behnken and Hurley also face a 14-day quarantine before their flight.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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