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NASA gives the green light for SpaceX's first manned flight

After the last usual checks, NASA validated the planned flight on May 27. If it works, it will be the first time that a private company has sent astronauts to the international space station.

NASA gave the green light Friday May 22 to the May 27 launch of two astronauts aboard a SpaceX rocket, a crucial step to break the American dependence on Russia since 2011 to access the International Space Station (ISS). Senior officials from the space agency and the company founded by Elon Musk in 2002 had been meeting since Thursday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to verify that everything was ready and safe for the first flight of the brand-new SpaceX capsule, Crew Dragon, with passengers on board.

“All systems and subsystems have been assessed and in the end we approved the green light”said Jim Bridenstine, boss of NASA, during a virtual press conference at the space center, in an empty press room, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley have been in strict quarantine since May 13, but their solitary confinement had started in mid-March, they said.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will propel the two men to the sky on May 27 at 4.33 p.m. (10.33 p.m. GMT), in the direction of the space station where they will dock the next day. It will be the first time that American astronauts have taken off from the United States since the end of the space shuttles in 2011, after thirty years of service.

Since then, only the Russians have had a means of transport to the ISS, and dozens of American astronauts (and other countries) have learned Russian and borrowed the Soyuz rockets, from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, to get to the station, permanently occupied since 2000 by Americans and Russians.

NASA has financed, since the presidency of Barack Obama, SpaceX ($ 3.1 billion in contracts) and Boeing ($ 4.9 billion) in order to give the United States independent access to space. The program was originally supposed to take over from the shuttles in 2015. A delay that Neil Armstrong, the first man to have walked on the Moon, already judged in 2010 “humiliating and unacceptable”. Finally, the break will have lasted almost nine years – provided that the SpaceX flight goes well.

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