Americas

Astronaut launches to take place in the US for first time in nine years

NASA has announced that SpaceX will launch astronauts into orbit from US soil next month after nine years of complete dependence on Russia.

SpaceX plans to end the drought by sending astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space station on 27 May.

Lift off will be from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 4.32pm local time.

It marks the first time a rocket will carry astronauts into orbit from the US since NASA‘s last space shuttle flight in 2011.

Mr Hurley served as pilot on the last shuttle mission and will be the spacecraft commander for SpaceX’s Dragon crew capsule.

“On May 27, @NASA will once again launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil!”, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted on Friday.

It is too soon to know whether the coronavirus pandemic will prompt crowd restrictions at the launch.

Russia, the US and China are the only three countries to have launched people into orbit since 1961 – and SpaceX would be the first company.

SpaceX successfully conducted its first test flight of a Dragon crew capsule a year ago, sending the capsule – minus the crew – to the space station.

However, the returned capsule was accidentally destroyed during ground testing at Cape Canaveral, further delaying the astronaut launch.

The length of Mr Hurley and Mr Behnken’s mission is still under review, according to NASA, but they are expected to spend weeks, perhaps months, helping to maintain the orbiting lab.

Meanwhile, NASA is in the process of buying another seat on a Russian rocket.

Russian Soyuz capsules have been used for crew transportation to and from the space station since 2011.

SpaceX has been using Falcon 9 rockets to launch cargo to the space station in the company’s original Dragon capsules since 2012.

Boeing is working to launch astronauts under NASA’s commercial crew programme, but suffered a major setback following last December’s botched test flight.

The aerospace company plans to repeat the test flight again this autumn.

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