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NASA Closer To Launching Astronauts From U.S. Once Again

Boeing and SpaceX will soon send NASA astornauts to the International Space Station from Florida's Space Coast: Photo: NASA
Boeing and SpaceX will soon send NASA astornauts to the International Space Station from Florida's Space Coast: Photo: NASA

NASA is another step closer to launching astronauts to the International space station from U.S. soil.

Two private companies will soon ferry astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida’s Space Coast.

United Launch Alliance will launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft on an Atlas V rocket. ULA announced it reached a critical milestone by receiving what’s called a Design Certification Review last month.

That means ULA can continue testing the hardware and software of the rocket ahead of test flights. NASA said Boeing will continue to work on three Starliner space capsules this year at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule's abort engines as well as parachutes will continue testing throughout 2018.

Boeing said it’s on track to launch an uncrewed capsule in August, followed by a crewed test flight in November. The uncrewed mission will send the Starliner to the International Space Station. There, it will spend about two weeks docked to the station. Then it will return to Earth where it will land in the western United States.

SpaceX is the other company awarded a NASA contract to send astronauts to the ISS. It plans to launch a test mission with no people onboard of the Crew Dragon capsule in April, followed by a test flight with astronauts in August.

Work continues on six Crew Dragon capsules. In 2018, SpaceX will rigorously test the engines powering the Falcon 9 rocket and the capsule ahead of the two test missions. SpaceX is planning a parachute test in mid-2018.

Crewed launches from Florida ended as the shuttle program was retired back in 2011. Since then, NASA has relied solely on Russia for rides to the space station.

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Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program.

Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.