Five-and-a-half years ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk revealed SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, a sleek-looking human-rated spaceship with 3D-printed engines, a roomy stylized interior and touchscreen controls. Now SpaceX’s first ship to ferry astronauts — with numerous design changes introduced since 2014 — is about to leave the company’s factory for final testing before launching early next year.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited SpaceX’s California rocket factory Thursday, toured the sprawling facility with founder Elon Musk and told reporters he is optimistic the company will be ready to launch the first piloted test flight of its Crew Dragon spaceship in the first quarter of next year.
Investigators believe a leak of propellant inside the Crew Dragon spacecraft’s propulsion system led to the capsule’s explosion April 20 during a ground test at Cape Canaveral, and a senior SpaceX official said Monday that delays are making it “increasingly difficult” to fly astronauts on the commercial spaceship before the end of the year.
Opening a new era in American spaceflight, a Falcon 9 rocket streaked into space early Saturday, boosting the company’s first Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit on an unpiloted test flight, the first launch of a commercially developed capsule intended to carry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.