If all goes well, it would be NASA’s first launch of astronauts into space from the soil of the United States since the space shuttle program was withdrawn nearly a decade ago, and it would be the first time that a private company had pushed people into orbit.
“There are no significant problems, I am happy to report,” Steve Jurczyk, NASA associate director who chaired the review, said at a press conference. “In the end, it was a very, very clear review.”
The review, which began on Thursday and resumed on Friday morning, was one of the last obstacles to be eliminated before the launch. On Friday afternoon, SpaceX successfully launched the engines on the Falcon 9 rocket for a short test to make sure they were working properly. On Saturday, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will prepare for the last time. A review of the availability for the final launch will take place on Monday.
The launch may still be delayed by time or by any number of last minute mechanical problems.
“We will remain vigilant in the coming days,” said Kathy Lueders, director of NASA’s commercial crew program.
He added that “we are trying to identify all the risks there are, and we continue to look at them and buy them. But we cannot be fooled either, human space flight is really, really difficult.”
“There will be a lot more data, a lot more reviews in the next few days,” said Benji Reed, director of crew and mission management for SpaceX. “There will be constant surveillance and surveillance of data and observations as we go through the mission.”
NASA and SpaceX officials said part of the review focused parachute safety which would deploy and slow down the Dragon’s spacecraft as it descends through the Earth’s atmosphere, bringing astronauts home. SpaceX has worked to qualify a new parachute system design that NASA has said it is comfortable with.
Behnken and Hurley have been in quarantine for more than a week, a normal procedure for astronauts going to space. But NASA and SpaceX said they took additional precautions due to the coronavirus pandemic. On Friday, during a press conference, Hurley said he and Behnken have been tested twice for coronavirus and “it is said that we could be tested again before we go.”
The couple would join Chris Cassidy, the only NASA astronaut aboard the station, and two Russian counterparts.
“He likes loneliness,” said Hurley. “But it was obvious that he is ready for some human interaction with us.”