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NASA, SpaceX to send astronauts to ISS

April 18, 2020

NASA has said it will launch American astronauts into orbit aboard a SpaceX shuttle on May 27. It will be the first astronaut launch from the US in nearly 10 years and the first to take place on a private spacecraft. 

Astronauts BOB BEHNKEN and DOUG HURLEY stand beside the Crew Dragon spacecraft
Image: picture-alliance/ZUMAPRESS/ZUMA Wire/NASA

US space agency NASA and US aeronautics company SpaceX will resume astronaut launches from the United States on May 27, NASA announced Friday, after nine years of dependence on Russia's space program. The launch would be the first time a private company sends astronauts into orbit.

"On May 27, @NASA will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil!" head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Jim Bridenstine wrote in a tweet. NASA has not launched astronauts into orbit from the US since its most recent space shuttle flight in 2011. 

The May mission aims to send two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) located over 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth. 

Read more: SpaceX plans to send tourists to International Space Station

SpaceX makes history, again 

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will take off from Kennedy Space Center launch pad in Florida on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. This was the same launchpad used by Atlantis, the shuttle used in 2011, and by the Apollo spacecraft that made the historic first mission to the moon over half a century ago. Liftoff time is scheduled for 4:32 p.m. EDT (20:32 UTC). 

Russia, the United States and China are the only countries to have launched people into space, with the first mission taking place in 1961. SpaceX will be the first company to do so. In 2015, the company made space history by successfully developing and launching rockets that can be reused. 

SpaceX successfully sent a test flight with a mannequin on board to the ISS last year. The company, founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, has been launching cargo to the space station using Falcon 9 rockets since 2012. The Crew Dragon capsule to be used in the May launch is a modified version of the capsule used for cargo missions. 

Independence from Russia

Currently, there are two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut aboard the ISS. Once they arrive, Hurley and Behnken will spend weeks or months helping maintain the lab. 

NASA is also currently in the process of acquiring another seat aboard a Russia rocket. Since 2011, Russia Soyuz capsules have transported all crew to and from the space station. 

NASA began using private companies such as SpaceX for deliveries after its shuttle program came to an end. 

US aeronautics company Boeing has also been vying to launch NASA astronauts, but an unmanned test flight launched last year failed to reach the space station and was nearly destroyed twice by software errors. The company is planning another test flight in autumn. 

kp/sms (AFP, AP)

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