CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - After almost nine years, astronauts may soon blast off from American soil once again.
Friday, NASA and SpaceX officially announced a launch date for the first crewed test flight of the SpaceX Dragon capsule. Two astronauts will be aboard when it lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 27.
The mission will mark several milestones, including the first privately launched flight of astronauts to the space station. SpaceX has been flying a cargo version of the capsule for years, but the crew version has only flown once, a 2019 test flight with no one aboard.
It will also be the first time that any astronauts lifted off on an orbital flight from the U.S. since the retirement of the space shuttles. Space shuttle Atlantis closed out the program in July 2011 based on recommendations from the board that investigated the Columbia disaster.
Since then, NASA has been buying seats on Russian rockets, which blast off from Kazakhstan.
The first Crew Dragon capsule sits atop a Falcon 9 rocket in February, 2019. (NASA photo)
NASA is developing its own new spacecraft, the Orion capsule, which is meant for trips to the moon and beyond. The agency plans to rely on commercial companies like SpaceX and Boeing to ferry crews to and from the space station.
Boeing’s Starliner capsule was nearly destroyed in its first and only uncrewed test flight late last year, and the company recently announced that they will perform another test flight before sending a crew into space.
The uncrewed Dragon test capsule seen docked with the space station in 2019. (NASA image)
The first Dragon crew capsule was destroyed in an explosion during a post-flight ground test of its thrusters, forcing a several-month delay while engineers investigated.
Earlier this year, SpaceX tested the Dragon's ability to survive an in-flight disaster, blasting the capsule free of a simulated booster failure. The successful test cleared the way for its crew debut.
SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission is now set for May 27 at 4:32 p.m. Wearing sleek SpaceX-designed spacesuits, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will lift off from the same pad that Atlantis flew from in 2011 and that Apollo 11 blasted off from in 1969 -- historic Launch Pad 39A, which SpaceX now leases from NASA.
The length of the mission has yet to be decided.