A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and a Crew Dragon capsule, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 9, 2020. -

Joel Kowsky / AP / SIPA

It's off again for the race for the stars.

A SpaceX rocket will launch three NASA astronauts and a Japanese astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday.

This first six-month “operational” mission marks the resumption of manned flights from the United States last May, after nine years of interruption and dependence on Russia.

NASA officially certified the Crew Dragon capsule developed by SpaceX for the transport of its astronauts in regular flights on Tuesday, deeming it safe.

SpaceX, a company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, had previously successfully completed a demonstration mission from May to August, two astronauts having been transported to the ISS then brought back to Earth without incident.

"I am extremely proud to say that we are resuming the regular manned space flights launched from American territory, with a rocket and an American vessel," said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine.

Favorable weather forecasts

The rocket will take off on Saturday at 7:49 p.m. (1 a.m. Sunday in Paris) from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

The crew will consist of Americans Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japanese Soichi Noguchi.

The weather forecast is favorable for the moment.

Docking with the ISS is scheduled for eight and a half hours later.

With this mission, the Dragon capsules will become NASA's favorite taxi, while the Boeing capsule, Starliner, which suffered significant problems during testing, is ready.

Above all, it establishes SpaceX as one of the most reliable providers of the American space agency and which has already been operating space station refueling flights with the cargo version of Dragon since 2012.

"In the next 15 months, we will launch seven human and cargo Dragon missions for NASA," said Benji Reed, head of human spaceflight at SpaceX.

From December, "every time we launch a Dragon, there will be two Dragons in space simultaneously, for extended periods," he said.

The next manned mission, scheduled for the end of March 2021, will take European Thomas Pesquet, with two Americans and another Japanese.


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