NASA finally certified SpaceX to fly astronauts on its Crew Dragon mission, scheduled for November 14th

SpaceX is about to launch the first human-rated commercial spacecraft with four astronauts this Saturday, November 14th at 7:49pm EST.

This won’t be the first human SpaceX mission. This summer, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley rocketed into Earth’s orbit and docked at the International Space Station aboard the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. They climbed back into the Crew Dragon after two months of living and working at the space station, screamed through the atmosphere, and safely parachuted back to Earth.

But the entire mission was considered a demo, a crucial move to securing NASA’s certification for human-spaceflight.

On Tuesday, NASA declared that it had fully approved the entire SpaceX human spaceflight launch system.

The decision was the outcome of a flight readiness analysis by the agency, in which experts and officials spent two days evaluating the Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon spacecraft, the software, and mission operations of SpaceX.

The qualification came just days before the next planned astronaut flight of SpaceX, expected to take place on Saturday. In preparation for that mission, the company has already perched a new Crew Dragon on the rocket, the longest and most important yet. Named Crew-1, the space station round-trip flight is the first of six that the rocket company Elon Musk has signed with NASA.

The Crew-1 astronauts sit inside the Crew Dragon during training. From left: Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi.

“People tend to think it’s just the spacecraft, but it’s the spacecraft, it’s the launch vehicle, it’s all the processing on the ground, it’s how you do your mission operations. All that will safely fly our crew up to the International Space Station and back and then recover,” Kathy Lueders, who leads NASA’s human-spaceflight program, said in a press briefing. “You’ve shown us the data, and we trust you to do that. It’s a big trust factor here.”

If weather permits, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will send the Crew Dragon into space on Saturday, November 14th at 7:49pm EST. Astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi will be on board. Eight and a half hours later, they are due to dock at the space station, where they will remain for about six months, marking the longest human space flight in US history.

The astronauts will climb back into the Crew Dragon when it’s time to come home, which will remain attached to the space station throughout their stay, then weather a fiery fall through the Earth’s atmosphere.

“The crew’s lives are in our hands — very important responsibility,” Lueders said.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, guided by four parachutes, splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast on March 8, 2019.

This is the first time since the Space Shuttle Program started nearly 40 years ago that NASA has certified a human-flight system. The decision was the result of 10 years of research and testing sponsored by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which was generated by partnerships to restore the human-spaceflight capability of the US. According to The Planetary Society, the government has invested more than $6 billion on that effort. With Saturday’s launch, the program will finally realize its objective.

“Thank you to NASA for their continued support of SpaceX and partnership in achieving this goal,” Musk said in a press release. “I could not be more proud of everyone at SpaceX and all of our suppliers who worked incredibly hard to develop, test, and fly the first commercial human spaceflight system in history to be certified by NASA. This is a great honor that inspires confidence in our endeavor to return to the moon, travel to Mars, and ultimately help humanity become multi-planetary.”

Don’t forget to tune in this Saturday, November 14th at 7:49pm EST for this historic mission!

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