Live coverage of the NASA SpaceX launch Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET will be streamed on foxbusiness.com.
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The mission is the final test for the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. It’s the first time astronauts will launch into orbit aboard a spacecraft built by a private company. And the launch will mark the first time American astronauts pilot an American-made spacecraft launched from U.S. soil since NASA's Space Shuttle program ended in 2011.
Two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will travel to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon, although the spacecraft can carry up to seven passengers, according to SpaceX.
The launch is scheduled for May 27 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The spacecraft is 13 feet across and 26.7 feet tall with a launch weight of more than 13,200 pounds. It launches on one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.
There are two main sections to the Crew Dragon: a pressurized capsule for people and “environmentally sensitive” cargo, and a “trunk” which connects to the rocket, contains solar arrays and can carry unpressurized cargo, according to SpaceX. The trunk remains attached to the capsule until reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.
The capsule also contains several thrusters for maneuvering. It’s designed to autonomously dock with the space station, according to NASA.
While this will be the Dragon’s first crewed spaceflight, it’s not a totally brand new design. SpaceX has launched crewless versions of the Dragon more than 20 times since 2012, according to NASA records. The spacecraft has already been used to shuttle cargo to the International Space Station.
The cargo-only version of the Dragon also became the first private spacecraft to visit the station in 2012.
Officials haven’t said how long Behnken and Hurley will remain at the space station, but the Crew Dragon being used for the test is capable of staying in orbit for about 110 days, according to NASA. Normally, the spacecraft will be able to orbit for 210 days. It takes about 24 hours to reach the station.
The Crew Dragon was developed as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Assuming all goes well with the test flight, it will be used for regular missions to the International Space Station. NASA has already been planning future missions for the spacecraft.
The spacecraft is planned to splash down off the coast of Florida. A SpaceX recovery vessel will then return it to Cape Canaveral.
The mission also marks the next step toward NASA’s goal of sending humans to the moon again and eventually reaching Mars. The Elon Musk-led SpaceX is one of three firms working with NASA to develop spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon.