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NASA review advances first launch of astronauts in reused capsule

The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavor, which is scheduled for another flight on April 22, floats in the Gulf of Mexico on August 2 after the historic first flight of astronauts on a SpaceX mission. File Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA
The Crew Dragon spacecraft Endeavor, which is scheduled for another flight on April 22, floats in the Gulf of Mexico on August 2 after the historic first flight of astronauts on a SpaceX mission. File Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., April 15 (UPI) -- A planned SpaceX astronaut launch from Florida to the International Space Station next week has cleared a major review by NASA officials, the space agency announced Thursday evening.

Teams of technicians and engineers will proceed toward a planned liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule at 6:11 a.m. EDT on April 22 from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

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The astronauts are expected to arrive at the space station a day later, marking the first time two U.S. vehicles will be docked at the orbiting laboratory, said Norm Knight, a NASA deputy manager of flight operations.

"The teams are doing this in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and we're pulling together. We're not letting that be a barrier," Knight said during a news conference Thursday.

NASA's Crew-2 mission will mark several additional historic moments for space travel. The booster launching the rocket will be the first SpaceX booster to be reused while carrying people. During the space shuttle era, solid-rocket side boosters were reused.

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SpaceX also will reuse the Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour that launched two astronauts in May -- the first human spaceflight from U.S. soil since the shuttle era ended in 2011.

The reuse of such vehicles was a part of the review, said Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

"We had to look at how the structures would perform for an additional flight," Stich said. "We made sure all the hazards on Falcon 9 and Dragon were controlled."

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NASA and SpaceX said they were evaluating one issue identified during review -- an error in the measurement of the amount of liquid oxygen loaded into SpaceX rockets. That issue would be resolved before the rocket is test fired in the next few days, officials said.

NASA has assigned American astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur for the launch, along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.

The four space flyers plan to arrive in Florida on Friday for the third SpaceX launch carrying astronauts. SpaceX missions flew two astronauts to the space station in May and again in November.

Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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