U.S. space agency NASA's administrator Jim Bridenstine and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk said Thursday that the inaugural Crew Dragon astronaut launch could come as early as the first quarter of 2020, APA reports citing Xinhua.
Accompanied by Musk, Bridenstine toured SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and checked on the company's progress toward its first launch of astronauts on the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
"Elon and I are in strong agreement on this -- that the one thing we have under development that is of the highest priority is launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil," Bridenstine said during his visit to the company.
"Human spaceflight is the reason that SpaceX was created, and we're incredibly honored to partner with NASA," Musk said.
Bridenstine admitted that his optimism is contingent on SpaceX having no major problems with upcoming tests of redesigned parachutes along with ground and in-flight tests of the Crew Dragon's powerful emergency abort system.
A Crew Dragon capsule was destroyed in an explosion during a test of that system in April.
"This is a big deal for our country. We can't get it wrong and in fact, we have to get it right," Bridenstine said.
"These are key messages that we believe it can be done in the first quarter of next year, but we are not going to take any undue risk because the safety of our astronauts and the success of the mission is the highest priority," he said.
Musk said the Crew Dragon remains the overwhelming priority for SpaceX.
SpaceX and Boeing are developing hardware to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.