- SpaceX is just a ‘load’ of paperwork away from launching its first astronauts into space, NASA administrators say.
- NASA’s target date to launch astronauts in the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship is May 7, though that is likely to change.
- The two NASA astronauts training with SpaceX will likely become the first people ever to fly a commercial spacecraft.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
SpaceX has almost nothing but paperwork ahead of its first astronaut launch, NASA says. The target launch date: May 7.
The company’s spaceship, called Crew Dragon, was developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which asked private companies to design and build new astronaut-ready spacecraft. Boeing and SpaceX came out on top in the competition, and the two companies are now racing to launch their first astronauts into space.
But SpaceX’s crewed launch will almost certainly mark the first human flight of any commercial spacecraft, since Boeing is facing delays and an internal safety review following a series of software errors found during a test flight.
Crew Dragon’s uncrewed test flight to the space station went smoothly, however, which just leaves SpaceX with analysis and paperwork to complete.
Mark Geyer, director of the Johnson Space Center, confirmed the May 7 launch target to Ars Technica. He added that the date is not official and that plans will probably change — so the spacecraft could launch anytime in April, May, or June.
SpaceX astronauts are training for their first commercial spaceflight
The two astronauts NASA picked to fly the Crew Dragon first — Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — have been working closely with SpaceX since 2015, advising the company on the spaceship’s development and training to fly it to the space station.
“Bob and I were lucky enough to be selected together,” Hurley told The Atlantic in September. “As we get closer to launch, things in the last year have actually been pretty hectic. We’ve been spending increasing amounts of time in California, because that’s where most of the work is being done for Dragon.”
But much remains to be done.
“Even though it sounds mundane, there is a load of paper that has to be verified, and signed off, and checked to make sure we’ve got everything closed out,” Doug Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for human spaceflight, told Ars Technica. He added: “It is probably one of the longest things in the tent to go ahead and do. It’s underappreciated but critically important. You’ve got to make sure you’ve done everything you need to do along the way.”
Behnken and Hurley’s preparation so far has involved intensive training exercises, dress rehearsals, and dry runs of launch day procedures. But NASA has not yet decided how long the two astronauts will stay on the space station. The agency told Ars Technica that administrators are considering extending the mission to six weeks — rather than the original one-week plan — or even six months. If Behnken and Hurley get an extended mission, they’ll have to go through additional training.
If they stay longer on the ISS, however, that could help astronaut Chris Cassidy, who’s already up there. His fellow crew members, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Drew Morgan, are returning to Earth in the spring, which will leave Cassidy as the only NASA astronaut on the station. Astronauts and cosmonauts from other countries live onboard as well, but NASA wants to cut down on Cassidy’s time as the sole US astronaut.
“The station is about to go down to one person, and so it would make sense for this mission to stay a little longer,” Geyer said. “So that’s all part of the mix, and all of that is coming together, and we’ll be making decisions soon about when we think it’s going to launch.”
SEE ALSO: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first to fly SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship. Here’s how they’re preparing.
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