NASA and SpaceX have approved a first test flight next week from the new Dragon commercial capsule designed for the crew.
No one will be on the boat, just an instrument organ in a white SpaceX suit. But the capsule will still fly to the International Space Station after the planned fall of March 2 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
Officials gave the green light after a security review.
NASA's head of research and operations, William Gerstenmaier, called for the upcoming test flight "an absolutely crucial first step" for the final disposal of astronauts on board.
An amazing task has been to ensure that the capsule does not endanger the space station and the three occupants as it pulls and falls off, Gerstenmaier said. He will remain in the orbiting laboratory just a week before he plans to go to the Atlantic outside of Florida. Radiation screens and supplies go up and science samples and used equipment fall.
Human space flight is the core mission of the company, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of SpaceX, and at present there is nothing more important than this effort.
"It's a very big deal for SpaceX," he told reporters.
Space X has been carrying out space station missions since 2012. The private company had to revise the cargo cart for astronauts. If the upcoming demonstration is going well, two NASA astronauts could take part in the next test flight this summer. Officials stressed that a lot of work needs to be done, with problems that may be solved by redesigning before the capsule is suitable for bringing the man.
It would be NASA's first launch of NASA astronauts from US territory in eight years after NASA's NASA program was completed. They have been riding Russian missiles to reach and from the space station, costing NASA tens of millions of dollars per seat.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to climb at 2:48 am EST on March 2 is brand new. NASA does not want recycled booster units for these crew shipments. SpaceX plans to launch a massive launch in April, reusing the same capsule.
Boeing is also in the commercial race to transport astronaut space stations. Starliner's first demo targets April, and the second, with astronauts, not earlier than August.
Originally published as NASA, SpaceX flight test to advance