SpaceX is primed to launch its first passenger-ready vessel on a mission to the International Space Station on early Saturday morning, except there's a caveat: The Crew Dragon spacecraft won't be ferrying a single soul when it lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Rather, the craft—carried by a Falcon 9 rocket—will serve the purpose of running crucial tests for future SpaceX missions, which are poised to involve real astronauts.
If you're interested in watching the event, which will involve the SpaceX vessel autonomously docking with the ISS for the first time, you're in luck. There's a live stream on NASA TV, while
The crew dragon won't be transporting any passengers—save for a dummy outfitted in astronaut gear named Ripley—but will contain 450 pounds of cargo meant for undertaking tests. The vessel is slated to dock with the ISS, rather than get corralled by an astronaut and the station's robotic arms, on Sunday, March 3. The Falcon 9 rocket will release the Crew Dragon before returning back to Earth on Saturday. From there, the rocket will scream downwards and attempt to land on a SpaceX drone ship in the middle of the ocean.
If SpaceX is to succeed in its aims of pioneering commercial passenger journeys to space, the fate of this particular Crew Dragon launch is paramount. The launch is part of SpaceX's partnership with NASA, which began in 2014 as a way for the space agency to curb its reliance on Russian-made rockets. NASA needs Crew Dragon to prove it's ready to conduct manned-missions—and to justify the $6.8 billion joint contract it awarded SpaceX and Boeing for that very purpose in 2014.
The launch window begins at 2:49 am EST on Saturday morning, while NASA's livestream will begin at 2 am. Space nerds will no doubt be glued to their computer monitors in the wee hours of Saturday morning.