News and Commentary

NASA Certifies SpaceX’s Human Spaceflight System For American Astronauts
In this handout image provided by NASA, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (L) and Douglas Hurley are seen inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule spacecraft which landed in the Gulf of Mexico after completing the Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station on August 2, 2020 off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. The Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program. The test flight serves as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceXs crew transportation system. Behnken and Hurley launched at 3:22 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 30, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on Tuesday that it had certified SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket booster to launch American astronauts into orbit and bring them back to Earth.

“I could not be more proud of everyone at SpaceX and all of our suppliers who worked incredibly hard to develop, test, and fly the first commercial human spaceflight system in history to be certified by NASA,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “This is a great honor that inspires confidence in our endeavor to return to the Moon, travel to Mars, and ultimately help humanity become multi-planetary.”

According to NASA, the Crew Dragon is the first U.S. spacecraft “to be NASA-certified for regular flights with astronauts since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago.”

Since 2009, NASA has spent billions funding the transportation system’s development through a public-private partnership with the California rocket maker that helped end U.S. reliance on foreign countries.

“I’m extremely proud to say we are returning regular human spaceflight launches to American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

As CNBC recently reported:

Ever since the space shuttle retired in 2011, the U.S. has paid Russia upwards of $80 million per seat to fly astronauts to the International Space Station. The SpaceX certification ends that reliance on Russia, and comes with an expected cost of about $55 million per astronaut. Additionally, as Boeing is also working to complete its Starliner capsule under the Commercial Crew program, NASA estimates that having two private companies compete for contracts saved the agency between $20 billion and $30 billion in development costs.

After the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry into Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, NASA shifted its philosophy and became more dependent on the private sector for innovation. According to The New York Times, the accident killed all seven crew members on board and resulted in American aerospace companies losing “almost all of the business of launching commercial satellites to competitors in countries such as Russa and China.”

According to CNBC, SpaceX’s certification comes just before the Crew-1 launch is scheduled to blast off on Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida. The outlet reported that the Crew Dragon would carry three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut to the International Space Station for a six-month mission.

More from CNBC:

Crew-1 comes about five months after SpaceX successfully completed its Demo-2 flight, which carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the company’s first ever crewed mission and final Crew Dragon test flight. The Crew-1 mission comes with additional milestones for SpaceX, as it marks the beginning of regular astronaut missions for the company. Between its Crew Dragon and Cargo Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX expects to have a continuous presence in space moving forward.

“NASA’s partnership with American private industry is changing the arc of human spaceflight history by opening access to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station to more people, more science and more commercial opportunities,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA. “We are truly in the beginning of a new era of human spaceflight.”

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