Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon, now certified to fly NASA astronauts for long-duration missions on board the International Space Station. [credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars ]
SpaceX and NASA made history in May by launching two astronauts—Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken—into orbit on board the privately developed Crew Dragon spacecraft.
After that highly successful two-month mission, SpaceX and NASA set about reviewing data to ensure the actual flight was consistent with all of their simulations over the course of nearly a decade. In developing Crew Dragon, among the raft of tests performed, SpaceX said it completed about 8 million hours of hardware-in-the-loop software testing, 700 tests of Dragon's SuperDraco thrusters, and nearly 100 tests and flights of Dragon's parachutes.
Following all of this work and two test flights, NASA formally completed certification of the Crew Dragon vehicle and its Falcon 9 rocket for human spaceflight earlier this month. After a decade of wandering in the wilderness, with no independent access to space following the space shuttle's retirement, NASA is about to be back in the business of flying astronauts, thanks to this public-private partnership.