Shotwell to GAO: "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019"
SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell reacted to GAO's report yesterday that commercial crew flights may slip from 2018 to 2019 by expressing utmost confidence in her company's schedule. At a Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press conference today in advance of SpaceX's commercial cargo launch tomorrow, she said the company's response to GAO is "The [heck] we won't fly before 2019."
SpaceX is scheduled to launch its 10th operational commercial cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA tomorrow at 10:01 am ET from KSC's historic Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) The press conference was as much about this first use of LC-39A for a Space X mission as about the launch itself. The launch pad was used for Apollo missions to the Moon and many space shuttle launches, including the first one in 1981. Shotwell and KSC Director Bob Cabana, himself a space shuttle astronaut, struggled to find words to express their excitement about seeing the pad back in use.
SpaceX currently takes cargo to the ISS for NASA and also is building a version of its Dragon spacecraft to transport astronauts there. Yesterday's GAO report assessed the progress SpaceX and its competitor in the commercial crew program, Boeing, are making on their programs. It warned that neither is likely to meet their current plans to launch crews in 2018 and called on NASA to develop a contingency plan if those capabilities slip to 2019. NASA agreed to prepare such a plan by March 13.
Asked about the likelihood that SpaceX will meet its 2018 schedule, Shotwell firmly asserted: "I'm confident we will fly in 2018," adding that their response to the GAO report is "the [heck] we won't fly before 2019."
Tomorrow's launch is on schedule as of press time, but Shotwell was asked about a helium leak that was discovered today. She explained that the leak is in the Falcon 9's second stage helium system and is being investigated. The launch remains "go" for now, but she said they would have a better understanding later this evening. If the launch does not take place tomorrow, the backup launch date is Sunday at 9:38 am ET. NASA TV will provide live coverage of the launch and a post-launch press conference currently scheduled for 12:00 pm ET tomorrow.
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