NASA certifies SpaceX for crewed operational missions

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After years of hard work, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule have been certified by NASA for crewed operational missions.
Image: SpaceX

SpaceX achieved a major milestone over the summer when it transported two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). Now, the private spaceflight company has officially been certified by NASA to fly crewed operational missions on a permanent basis.

That makes SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule the first transportation system to earn the seal of approval since the space shuttle did nearly 40 years ago.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “This certification milestone is an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX that highlights the progress we can make working together with commercial industry.”

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It’s worth noting that the approval comes just in time for SpaceX and NASA to launch four astronauts to the ISS. The mission, originally scheduled for October 31, will now take place on November 14. The first operational Crew Dragon flight will take off from the historic Launch Complex 39A at Kenney Space Center in Florida.

Official at Last

Over the course of the past few years, NASA and SpaceX have been hard at work to prove that their ambitious partnership would work. When the space agency signed the Human Rating Certification Plan on Tuesday, those efforts were validated.

Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operation Mission Directorate, says, “Today’s signing is about the people across NASA, SpaceX, and other groups that came together to complete an unbelievable amount of hard work to accomplish this task.”

“Certification moves us from the design and test phase into the crew rotation phase of our work, but we will not stop making sure every flight, including NASA’s Space Crew-1 mission, will be approached with the same rigor we have put into making this the best system it can be for our astronauts,” she adds.

The approval covers SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and all of the ground systems associated with it as well as the Crew Dragon capsule that carries the astronauts.

A Look Back

The partnership between NASA and SpaceX has grabbed many headlines in the last year or two. However, the duo has been working together for much longer than that.

In 2015, an early version of the Crew Dragon capsule completed a pad abort test—a key safety trial. Later, in 2019, a non-manned Crew Dragon Capsule was sent to the ISS and spent five days docked at the orbiting lab.

This January, the Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket aced a launch escape test, proving the craft’s ability to carry astronauts to safety in the event of an in-flight emergency.

Of course, the most notable mission, Demo-2, took place at the end of May. It sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for an extended stay before returning them safely to Earth.

Between those major milestones, hundreds of other tests and training drills were carried out to prove the safety of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon system. Now, that hard work gives NASA the ability to launch astronauts from American soil for years to come. It is a major accomplishment that deserves every bit of recognition.

Stay tuned to The Burn-In for the latest on all things related to SpaceX and NASA.

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