Re­view green­lights first hu­man space­flight from U.S. soil since shut­tle days

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL - BY CHRIS­TIAN DAVENPORT chris­tian.davenport@wash­post.com

NASA and Spacex are go for launch.

NASA an­nounced Fri­day that an ex­haus­tive “flight readi­ness re­view” of Wed­nes­day’s sched­uled launch of a Spacex rocket with two NASA as­tro­nauts aboard had de­ter­mined that the mis­sion could pro­ceed.

The launch is now set for Wed­nes­day at 4:33 p.m. from launch­pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Florida.

If all goes well, it would be the first launch of NASA as­tro­nauts to space from U.S. soil since the space shut­tle pro­gram was re­tired nearly a decade ago, and it would be the first time a pri­vate com­pany had boosted peo­ple to or­bit.

“There are no sig­nif­i­cant is­sues, I am happy to re­port,” Steve Jur­czyk, NASA’S as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor who chaired the re­view, told a news con­fer­ence. "In the end, it was a very, very clean re­view.”

The re­view, which be­gan

Thurs­day and re­sumed Fri­day morn­ing, was one of the last hur­dles to be cleared be­fore the launch. On Fri­day af­ter­noon, Spacex fired the en­gines on the Fal­con 9 rocket for a short test to en­sure they were op­er­at­ing cor­rectly. On Satur­day, as­tro­nauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hur­ley will suit up and go through the prelaunch pro­ce­dures one last time. A fi­nal launch readi­ness re­view will be held on Mon­day.

The launch still could be de­layed by weather or any num­ber of last-minute me­chan­i­cal glitches.

“We’re go­ing to stay vig­i­lant over the next few days,” said Kathy Lued­ers, the di­rec­tor of NASA’S com­mer­cial crew pro­gram.

She added that “we are try­ing to iden­tify any risks that are out there, and con­tinue to look at risk, and buy them down. But we also can’t fool our­selves, hu­man space­flight is re­ally, re­ally tough.”

“There'll be lots more data, lots more re­views in the next few days,” said Benji Reed, Spacex’s di­rec­tor of crew and mis­sion man­age­ment. “There will be con­stant vig­i­lance and watch­ing of the data and ob­ser­va­tions as we go through the mis­sion.”

Of­fi­cials from NASA and Spacex said part of the re­view fo­cused on the safety of the para­chutes that would de­ploy and slow the Dragon space­craft as it drops through the Earth’s at­mos­phere, bring­ing the as­tro­nauts home. Spacex had been work­ing to qual­ify a new de­sign of the para­chute sys­tems that NASA said it is now com­fort­able with.

Behnken and Hur­ley have been in quar­an­tine for more than a week, a nor­mal pro­ce­dure for as­tro­nauts go­ing to space. But NASA and Spacex have said they have been tak­ing ad­di­tional pre­cau­tions be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. At a news brief­ing Fri­day, Hur­ley said he and Behnken have been tested for the coro­n­avirus twice and that “ru­mor has it we might be tested again be­fore we go.”

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