SpaceX and NASA will target Jan. 7 for the long-awaited uncrewed demonstration flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, a critical mission that will pave the way for future flights from American soil.
Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A, once used for Apollo and space shuttle launches, will host a Falcon 9 rocket for the mission designed to run the gamut from launch to docking to splashdown operations, NASA said Wednesday.
Teams are expected to use the data and experience for SpaceX’s first crewed demonstration flight, also from pad 39A, now slated for no earlier than June. That will mark nearly eight years since the last crewed mission took flight from U.S. soil on board Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first astronauts to cross a futuristic new 85-foot walkway at the pad and board Crew Dragon for the crewed test flight, later followed by Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins for the capsule’s first operational mission to the ISS.
NASA’s program established to help commercial companies deliver astronauts to the ISS, known as Commercial Crew, also selected Boeing as part of its $6.8 billion first round. The company is now expected to fly its Starliner capsule without a crew in March and will target a crewed mission in August if all goes well. Boeing’s astronauts include Eric Boe, Josh Cassada, Chris Ferguson, Nicole Mann and Suni Williams.
NASA’s announcement of the Jan. 7 target launch, however, came less than a day after a report filed by The Washington Post said the agency ordered a safety review of SpaceX and Boeing that would delve into the “culture of the workplaces.”
The report said the probe was triggered, at least in part, by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s recent behavior on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast that was streamed online. In it, Musk is seen sipping on whiskey and taking a single hit of marijuana.
A NASA spokesman declined to tell the Post exactly what prompted the review.
Back on the launch manifest, meanwhile, SpaceX still has four more missions to complete before 2018 is out: Two from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and two from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The first of those, labeled SSO-A, is slated to launch from Vandenberg no earlier than Nov. 27 and will mark the first time the company attempts to fly the same booster three times. A week later on Dec. 4, a Falcon 9 will take thousands of pounds of cargo and science experiments to the ISS, launching from Cape Canaveral at 1:38 p.m.
Contact Emre Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.