NASA gives SpaceX green light for first Crew Dragon launch

Save the date: March 2 at 2:49 a.m.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – By next weekend, the U.S. could be one step closer to launching astronauts from American soil again.

After completing a critical safety review NASA officials said Friday they are moving ahead with the March 2 launch date for the maiden voyage of SpaceX's astronaut-capsule Crew Dragon.

SpaceX will launch the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon capsule from NASA Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A at 2:49 a.m. Saturday.

Air Force weather officials are forecasting an 80 percent chance for favorable launch conditions Saturday morning.

Why is this important?

In 2014, NASA selected two U.S. companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to develop spacecraft to shuttle its astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Boeing's uncrewed test flight of the CST-100 Starliner space capsule is slated for no earlier than April.

The SpaceX Demo-1 launch is one of the final steps before Crew Dragon can carry NASA astronauts to space. After launch, Crew Dragon will dock at the space station and then return to Earth five days later, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Docking and undocking the spacecraft are a critical part of the test. SpaceX has been making supply deliveries for NASA since 2012 on a similar Dragon spacecraft. The Demo-1 Crew Dragon flight will also deliver supplies to the space station.

SpaceX Build and Flight Reliability Vice President Hans Koenigsmann said the Crew Dragon Demo-1 spacecraft will carry one passenger inside the cabin: a flight-suit wearing mannequin. Koenigsmann said he didn't know the name of the mannequin.

If the March 2 launch goes well, NASA and SpaceX will review the test flight data and determine if any changes need to be made.

"The flight test will provide valuable data NASA will review as part of the process to certify SpaceX’s crew transportation system is as safe as possible for carrying astronauts to and from the space station," according to NASA.gov.

SpaceX is on target to launch Crew Dragon with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard in July which is reliant on the Demo-1 launch, according to NASA's Commercial Crew timeline.

The rocket and spacecraft have been vertical on the pad for testing ahead of the uncrewed flight.

NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Kathy Lueders said she recently visited the launch site with Hurley and Behnken. The impact of seeing the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon drove home how close SpaceX is from sending astronauts to the space station.

"The next vehicle that we’re going to be walking up to on the pad is going to be their crewed craft," Lueders said.

On the heels of last week's successful reflight of a SpaceX rocket that returned to Port Canaveral Sunday, it will be a brand new Falcon 9 flying this weekend.

An emergency abort test of the Crew Dragon would follow a successful test flight. That would happen in April on the rocket that returned to Port Canaveral.

The new Falcon 9 Saturday will also attempt a landing.

"The big point is just to make sure this things works as they expect it will - launch, docking, undocking, reentry and splashdown," CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood said.

When Boeing or SpaceX launch NASA astronauts it will mark the first time an American has launched to low Earth orbit from U.S. soil since 2011.

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