NASA, SpaceX aim for March test of 1st new astronaut capsule

NASA and SpaceX are now aiming for a March debut of the first capsule from a private company designed to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.

No one will be on board for the crew Dragon's inaugural test flight to the orbiting outpost.

Officials have set March 2 as the latest launch date.  If the demo goes well, two NASA astronauts will take a test flight in July aboard the SpaceX capsule.

It would be the first launch of U.S. astronauts into orbit, from U.S. soil, since NASA's shuttle program ended in 2011. President Trump mentioned the upcoming milestone in Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Boeing in the meantime, is shooting for an April launch of its first Starliner capsule without a crew. The first Starliner flight with astronauts would be August at best.

NASA's commercial crew program has been delayed repeatedly over the years, forcing a lengthy, expensive reliance on Russian rockets. Each seat on a Russian Soyuz capsule has cost NASA as much as $82 million.

NASA says more time is still needed to complete testing, training and safety reviews.

Dawn Kamber