The flight, if successful, will be the first time a spaceship capable of carrying people that is commercially built and operated will travel to the International Space Station. The Hawthorne, California-based company evolved that Dragon cargo ship into a 21st-century space capsule equipped with a life-support system, emergency escape rockets and sleek touchscreen controls.
Unlike Elon Musk's Starman - which SpaceX strapped tightly to a Roadster during last year's sensational test launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket - Ripley serves an engineering objective. Most notable is the long, enclosed, gleaming white walkway at the top. Astronauts like the new, air-conditioned design.
"We instrumented the crap out of that vehicle", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of NASA´s Commercial Crew program.
While SpaceX has flown Dragon cargo capsules to the International Space Station, the crew version is longer and heavier and created to hold four astronauts.
This mission is a night owl's dream, with most of the big events happening in the wee hours. Liftoff is set for 2:49 a.m. EST (0749 GMT) from Pad 39A - the exact same site used by NASA's Apollo moon shots and where, almost eight years ago, the agency launched its final space shuttle mission.
The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission will cost Dollars 42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS). The three space station astronauts will enter the Dragon, unload the fresh supplies on board and then fill it with science samples and old equipment.
After a five-day stay, the spacecraft will undock next Friday, March 8, plunging back into the atmosphere for a parachute descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 230 miles east of Cape Canaveral.
Ripley will be an integral part of Demo-1, the first uncrewed test flight of SpaceX's futuristic passenger craft that could one day ferry astronauts to the ISS - and the dummy, which is already strapped into the Dragon capsule, is packed with sensors. Boeing's competing CST-100 Starliner has an Orbital Flight Test slated to occur in April, with plans for a crewed mission in August. NASA's Doug Hurley and Boeing's Christopher Ferguson-who both flew that final shuttle mission-will test drive the new commercial capsules.
"We are on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Twitter statement.
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