Looks like 2019 is going to be a busy year for the Space Exploration business. The word from NASA is that the first rocket from SpaceX designed to carry Astronauts is all set to take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan 7, 2019. If everything goes right, NASA could start sending astronauts to space right from their own soil for the first time in almost a decade, ever since the Obama Administration axed the Space Shuttle program by world’s richest space agency back in 2011.

SpaceX and Boeing are the two private agencies selected under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Crew Dragon (atop the Falcon 9 rocket) spacecraft by SpaceX and CST-100 (atop the  United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket) by Boeing have neared completion.

An unpiloted test flight is scheduled for Jan 7 for the Crew Dragon and a manned spaceflight for as early as June 2019. Once released from the Falcon 9, the spacecraft is expected to carry out an autonomous rendezvous with the International Space Station, docking at the lab’s recently modified forward port where shuttles once berthed. After a short stay, the capsule will undock and return to Earth with an ocean splashdown. Boeing is also expected to follow suit with their unpiloted test flight in March and the official take off in August.

However, the timeline could be altered. “Flying safely has always taken precedence over schedule.”, said NASA Spokeswoman Marie Lewis. This is clearly in light of the announcement NASA made yesterday when they said they would conduct a cultural assessment study and check the adherence towards a drug-free environment in both the companies. “We fully expect our commercial partners to meet all workplace safety requirements in the execution of our missions and the services they provide the American people,” said the agency in a statement.

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