Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of enabling humans to live on other planets.
Now the company is on the brink of a milestone that will bring it a big step closer. If the weather holds and no last-minute technical issues arise, SpaceX will launch Crew Dragon—a spacecraft never flown before—at 2:49 a.m. Eastern time Saturday on an unmanned mission from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station.
If all goes well, Crew Dragon could begin ferrying American astronauts to the orbiting lab as early as this summer.
SpaceX has already made several supply runs to the station for NASA. But proving that SpaceX can safely fly humans is key to the company’s ambitions for space tourism and creating a human colony on Mars. A successful launch will be critical in persuading any doubters.
“Human spaceflight is a core value of our business,” Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of build and flight reliability for SpaceX, said at a pre-launch press briefing with NASA Thursday. “We’ve been working on this for close to 17 years. I’m actually humbled at being at this point.”
In 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX and rival Boeing Co. combined contracts worth up to $6.8 billion to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station. The agency chose two companies for the unique public-private partnership to assure safe, reliable and cost-effective access to space while avoiding the perils of one provider having a monopoly. The U.S. government is also eager to have the ability to fly to the ISS without buying seats on Russian Soyuz capsules.
On Friday, NASA’s Twitter feed and blog posts were filled with images of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying Crew Dragon vertical on the launch pad. Falcon 9 is set to lift off from Launch Complex 39A, the launch site for the Apollo 11 mission that put humans on the moon.
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