The test flight will last six days, and be real in every way - liftoff from Florida on Saturday, docking to the International Space Station (ISS) the following day.
"I guarantee that not everything will work exactly right".
Now, Elon Musk's SpaceX is readying for the test of a lifetime with the test launch of its new crew capsule.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, SpaceX will attempt a demonstration mission for Crew Dragon, a version of its spacecraft that's been fitted out to carry people rather than just cargo.
The long-awaited "Demo 1" mission is the most critical milestone yet in NASA's $8 billion effort to replace the shuttle with commercially developed ferry ships meant to end the agency's sole reliance on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to carry USA and partner astronauts to and from the space station. They'll use the Crew Access Arm, which provides a bridge to the spacecraft from the crew access tower at Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. "It´s different", said Mark Geyer, director of the Johnson Space Center, where U.S. astronauts are based.
"On a personal level, this is an extremely important mission", SpaceX executive Hans Koenigsmann told reporters Thursday. The Roadster launched on top of the first successfully launched Falcon Heavy rocket last February.
NASA plans to livestream the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch as it happens through its NASA TV website; the live video can be accessed here and the network's broadcast schedule can be viewed here.
The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission will cost United States dollars 42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS). If everything isn't flawless and ready to go right at 2:49 a.m. EST, the launch will be pushed back to Tuesday at the earliest.
After a five-day stay, the spacecraft will undock next Friday, March 8, plunging back into the atmosphere for a parachute descent to splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean about 230 miles east of Cape Canaveral.
"We are on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Twitter statement. NASA's Doug Hurley and Boeing's Christopher Ferguson-who both flew that final shuttle mission-will test drive the new commercial capsules.
Boeing, meanwhile, is building a spacecraft called the CST-100 Starliner, which launches on Atlas V rockets and aims to make its debut uncrewed test in April.