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NASA to launch first astronauts from US since 2011

NASA and SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule. (NASA/Released)
April 17, 2020

Next month, NASA and SpaceX plan to hold the first launch of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine made the announcement on Friday, naming astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the NASA astronauts who will launch in the SpaceX Demo-2 launch on May 27.

The upcoming Demo-2 flight will be the second time SpaceX has launched the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), but only the first time it will be manned. The Crew Dragon spacecraft will be mounted to a Falcon 9 rocket.

The launch will take place from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39 in Merritt Island, Fla. SpaceX maintains a 20-year lease on the site’s 39A subcomplex, and launch most of their cargo missions from that location.

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NASA’s announcement also revealed the new “NASA Launch America” website, which boasts NASA’s partnership with SpaceX in entering “a new era of human spaceflight.”

“As the final flight test for SpaceX, this mission will validate the company’s crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities. This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit,” the website says of the upcoming flight.

It’s not yet clear how long the Crew Dragon and the astronauts will remain at the ISS, but the duration will be determined once the crew arrives.

The Crew Dragon is currently capable of remaining in orbit for 110 days, though it is well below the NASA requirement of 210 days for operational capability. The mission will be a major step in the spacecraft securing NASA’s operational certification.

Behnken and Hurley will be conducting tests on Crew Dragon as well as other research with the ISS crew, which will contribute to NASA’s ongoing research and technology investigations.