(Reuters) – NASA set a May 27 launch date on Friday for its first astronaut mission on American soil in nearly ten years.
PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Astronaut capsule Crew Dragon, takes off in an in-flight abortion test, an important milestone before flying humans in 2020 under NASA's commercial crew program, from Kennedy Space Center , at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. , USA, January 19, 2020. REUTERS / Joe Skipper
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that billionaire businessman Elon Musk's space company, SpaceX, will send two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station aboard Florida's Falcon 9 rocket – marking the company's first mission transporting humans on board.
"BREAKING: On May 27, @NASA will launch American astronauts on American rockets on American soil again!" Bridenstine wrote on Twitter.
The U.S. space agency had previously said that the mission, on which NASA astronauts Bob Behnken, 48, and Doug Hurley, 52, would assemble the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on the space station, would launch in May.
As with most high-level missions, the new date may slip. If all goes as planned, the mission will mark the first time NASA has launched its astronauts from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
Since then, the space agency has relied on Russia's space program to transport astronauts to the space station.
In a decade, next month's mission is the final test for Crew Dragon before regularly flying humans to NASA under the Commercial Crew Program, a public-private initiative. Boeing Co (BANKING) is developing its Starliner-competing astronaut taxi as the agency’s second trip to space.
The agency is considering whether to extend Behnken and Hurley's stay on board the space station for a week, as originally planned, for up to six months to ensure that U.S. astronauts remain on the station continuously.
Crew schedule schedules have been postponed for years, with the crew's first launch originally scheduled for early 2017.
Delays in the development of the Boeing Crew Dragon and Starliner have forced NASA to buy more crew seats from the Russian space agency, an increasingly expensive expense as Moscow resizes its own Soyuz program back to just two missions a year.
Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Bill Berkrot
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