NASA has approved the first mission of SpaceX’s Dragon Crew spacecraft to the ISS. The flight will launch on Saturday, March 2 at 2:48 a.m. ET (Friday, March 1, 11:48 p.m. PT). Unlike regular Dragon spacecraft missions to the International Space Station, this first Dragon Crew flight will carry some very special payload - another SpaceX mannequin.
Elon Musk, CEO of the space exploration startup is developing quite a reputation for sending mannequins to space. You may remember this is the guy that dropped his own car replete with mannequin off into space to mark the first launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018.
However, this time it's not a publicity stunt, the mannequin will be decked out with a variety of sensors that will send collect large amounts of data on the journey, so SpaceX engineers can get a better sense of what a real human is going to experience.
Dragon Crew will launch crewed mission this year
The Dragon Crew or Dragon 2 as is also known as the successor to the cargo-carrying Dragon spacecraft that NASA has been using to deliver supplies to the ISS since 2012. Dragon 2 has space for cargo and seven crew members. It is launched via a Falcon 9 rocket launch. If the mission is a success, it will mark the first time an American made crew-carrying rocket has been developed and successfully tested.
The crew aboard the ISS are also preparing for Dragon. NASA says astronauts aboard the ISS are using a computer-based trainer as well as reviewing procedures to refresh themselves with the Crew Dragon spacecraft systems, rendezvous and docking, ingress operations, changes to emergency responses, and vehicle departure.
NASA turns to commercial partners for help
Once this launch is out of the way, SpaceX will prepare for a test in April of the spacecraft emergency abort system that’s designed to save the crew in the event of a problematic launch. Once that test is successfully completed SpaceX will look to set a date for a true crewed mission.
The use of SpaceX for NASA mission is part of the American Space Agency’s Commercial Resupply service contracts. The agency is looking to expand its relationship with private companies to complete not only ISS refueling missions but other research projects too.
The ISS resupply is currently serviced by both SpaceX and Northrop Grumman. NASA recently selected Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser spacecraft to join the contracting team to deliver critical science, research, and technology experiments to the space station for the agency’s second commercial resupply contracts from 2019 to 2024.
The commercial partnership program will end NASA's reliance on Russia to transport crews to the orbiting laboratory.