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NASA certifies SpaceX to carry humans, OKs space station mission

The Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket are being prepared before being lifted vertically for the launch of four astronauts Saturday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station. NASA Photo by Joel Kowsky
The Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket are being prepared before being lifted vertically for the launch of four astronauts Saturday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station. NASA Photo by Joel Kowsky | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 10 (UPI) -- NASA certified SpaceX's spaceflight system Tuesday to carry astronauts to the International Space Station regularly, clearing the way for a four-person mission there planned for Saturday.

Elon Musk's company plans to launch its Crew Dragon capsule, which its four passengers have called Resilience, aloft atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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This will mark the first time in the history of spaceflight that four people traveled into space in one capsule. The space shuttles typically carried seven-member crews.

"We are honored to be the nation's launch provider for crewed missions and take seriously the responsibility that NASA has entrusted to us to carry American astronauts to and from the space station," Benji Reed, SpaceX's senior director of human spaceflight, said at a press conference.

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Liftoff for the newest crewed mission is planned for 7:49 p.m. EST, barring any interference by the weather.

Forecasters are keeping an eye on Hurricane Eta, which is expected to cross Florida north of Fort Myers on the west coast as a tropical storm Thursday. The storm is expected to become a tropical depression as it nears the east coast, north of the space center, later Thursday.

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The launch is to mark the beginning of a six-month mission at the space station for NASA's Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, and Japan's Soichi Noguchi. This also would start a continuous presence of SpaceX's Dragon capsule -- either cargo or crew models -- at the space station, Reed said.

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"Over the next 15 months, we will fly seven crew and cargo Dragon missions for NASA," he said.

Saturday's launch, called SpaceX Crew-1, marks the second time people will fly in the Dragon capsule and the first regular flight for the spacecraft. The initial crewed mission, considered a test flight, brought NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station for two months. They returned to Earth on Aug. 2.

The Dragon now assumes the same role the space shuttle filled for NASA -- to ferry astronauts to the space station.

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"I'm extremely proud to say we are returning regular human spaceflight launches to American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday.

"Thank you to NASA for their continued support of SpaceX and partnership in achieving this goal," SpaceX founder Musk said in a statement Tuesday.

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"I could not be more proud of everyone at SpaceX and all of our suppliers, who worked incredibly hard to develop, test and fly the first commercial human spaceflight system in history to be certified by NASA."

NASA gave a green light for Saturday's mission after concluding the agency's routine Flight Readiness Review. Engineers and technicians for the space agency and SpaceX discussed, among other things, the recent launch abort of a Falcon 9 rocket on an uncrewed mission.

Inspections determined that a clogged venting hole in the engines had been blocked by lacquer that a contractor failed to completely remove following construction.

NASA postponed the Crew 1 mission partly to evaluate the problem with the clogged valve.

20 years aboard the International Space Station

The International Space Station is photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking on October 4, 2018. NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev executed a fly-around of the orbiting laboratory to take pictures of the space station before returning home after spending 197 days in space. Photo courtesy of NASA/Roscosmos

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