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BREAKING NEWS

SpaceX readies Crew Dragon spacecraft for first test flight to the space station

Image: SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket lifting off from
SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. -
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SpaceX will conduct the first test flight of its Crew Dragon capsule this weekend, in what could be a major milestone for the commercial spaceflight industry.

The test flight is scheduled to occur Saturday (March 2) at 2:48 a.m. EST. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and fly to the International Space Station. It is scheduled to dock with the orbiting outpost at around 5:55 a.m. EST on Sunday (March 3).

The test flight, dubbed Demo-1, is the first time that a commercially built spacecraft designed to carry astronauts will launch to the space station. If successful, SpaceX will be one step closer to flying human passengers aboard the Crew Dragon capsule.

"I guarantee you that not everything will work exactly right, and that's cool," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration, said Friday in a news briefing. "That's exactly what we want to do."

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After the Crew Dragon docks with the space station, the capsule is expected to remain in orbit for a week. The spacecraft is scheduled to undock on March 8 and will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, several hours later.

The Crew Dragon spacecraft is based on the design of SpaceX's robotic Dragon capsule, which has been ferrying cargo to the space station since 2012. But, the crewed version was overhauled to seat seven passengers and includes an escape mechanism to get the crew out of harm's way if an emergency occurs during launch.

For the test flight, the capsule will be carrying some cargo and a "dummy" clad in one of SpaceX's flight suits to mimic a human passenger.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is one of two space capsules that have been developed to help NASA end its reliance on Russia's Soyuz rockets and capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. NASA's other commercial partner, Boeing, is building its own spacecraft called the CST-100 Starliner that could undergo its own uncrewed test in April.

Ever since NASA retired its space shuttle program in 2011, the space agency has had to purchase seats aboard Russian capsules, at a reported cost of $80 million per journey, to access the space station. In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded a combined $6.8 billion to develop new spacecraft to fly astronauts to the orbiting outpost.

SpaceX is scheduled to conduct another uncrewed flight of the Crew Dragon in April, during which the capsule's emergency abort system will be tested. If the spacecraft meets NASA's certifications, SpaceX will be ready to fly two humans — a pair of NASA astronauts — on the first crewed test flight to the space station. The space agency has yet to schedule that flight, but NASA has said it could occur in 2020.

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