SpaceX is about to destroy a rocket in a critical Crew Dragon test flight. Here's why.

Space.com | 1/18/2020 | Amy Thompson
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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX will intentionally destroy one of its rockets in the name of safety this weekend.

Company - Crew - Dragon - Spacecraft - Astronauts

This is the last major hurdle the company needs to clear before its Crew Dragon spacecraft can begin to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Scheduled for a 4-hour launch window opening at 8:00 a.m. EST (1300 GMT) Saturday (Jan. 18), the mission stars an unpiloted crew capsule that will blast off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center here in Florida. (You can watch the flight here at Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly through the company's YouTube page.) Its goal: to test the spacecraft's emergency escape system.

When NASA's fleet of space shuttles was retired in 2011, the agency shifted its focus to the commercial sector, selecting SpaceX and Boeing as its future space taxi providers. These two companies have worked to build a spacecraft capable of safely carrying crew, under contracts worth a total of $6.8 billion. Once operational, their vehicles — SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's CST-100 Starliner — will be NASA's primary means of transporting astronauts to space.

SpaceX - Crew - Dragon - Capsule - Astronauts

But before that can happen, SpaceX has to prove that its Crew Dragon capsule has what it takes to keep astronauts safe during flight. One of the difficult lessons learned from the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 was that all future crewed vehicles would need emergency escape systems, which the shuttle did not have.

While in-flight anomalies are rare, they do happen. Most recently, October 2018, NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin were carried to safety by a similar abort system when their rocket failed during flight. NASA wants to ensure that, if one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets were to...
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