In recent weeks, SpaceX has made giant strides to be ready to send astronauts into space via a commercial spacecraft. The Crew Dragon capsule undergoes some final tests for an unmanned launch scheduled this summer. These tests were conducted earlier at the Naval Air Facility El Centro in Southern California.
The space capsule is currently managed by NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. This research center is "the only facility in the world capable of testing full-capacity launchers and full-scale rocket engines under simulated high altitude conditions". Dragon's tests are vital for SpaceX to ensure that the spacecraft can survive extreme temperatures and space vacuum, NASA said.
The capsule will then travel to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare for its first flight.
The Crew Dragon is a crewed version of the Dragon 2 robotic capsule. This is one of two commercial space taxis that NASA will use to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The Dragon 2 Heat Shield is designed to withstand Earth's re-entry speeds from lunar and Martian space flights.
In April 2018, the Dragon 2 capsule was reused for the third time, and this only required the replacement of its heat shield, its trunk and its parachutes.
The Boeing CST-100 Starliner is also in the testing phase. Both capsules are designed to carry up to seven astronauts, or a mix of crew and cargo. The Crew Dragon will launch using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The Starliner will use a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The first test flights of Crew Dragon and Starliner are expected to be launched in August from various stations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida, NASA officials said. If all goes well, Crew Dragon could make his first manned launch in December. The first manned flight of Boeing's Starliner is scheduled for a month earlier, in November.
Meanwhile, SpaceX reaffirmed that the company still wants to make more than 25 launches by 2018. Congress leaders needed to think about how to facilitate the quick and safe launch of companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin.
For 2019, NASA has awarded six missions with Dragon 2.0 to carry up to four astronauts and cargo on board the ISS, as well as a rescue function to evacuate ISS astronauts in an emergency.