SpaceX's New Astronaut Capsule Docks On International Space Station

SpaceX's New Astronaut Capsule Docks On International Space Station

This test flight without crew on board the spacecraft is meant to demonstrate SpaceX's capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

The rocket lifted off at 2:49 a.m. EST.

A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule blasted off on Saturday for the International Space Station, in a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from US soil later this year.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen as it is rolled out of the horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-1 mission at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, February 28, 2019.

Humans have entered SpaceX's Crew Dragon while in orbit for the first time, just hours after the commercial spacecraft docked at the International Space Station on Sunday morning.

It is to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, and then return to Cape Canaveral.

Carrying 400 pounds of crew supplies, an Earth plushie toy, and a test dummy called Ripley, the rocket and attached capsule headed skywards without a hitch.

If the current unpiloted demonstration flight goes well and no major problems develop with other upcoming tests, SpaceX hopes to launch Behnken and Hurley in July for what will be the first piloted US space mission in almost eight years.

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Both companies have received billions of dollars from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts safely to and from the station.

SpaceX already has made 16 trips to the space station using cargo Dragons.

Enlarge / SpaceX founder Elon Musk shares a laugh with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, center, and Bob Behnken, in the launch control room at Kennedy Space Center Friday night.

"We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011, " said Bridenstine, who got a special tour of the launch pad on the eve of launch, by Musk. At 140 meters, NASA astronaut Anne McClain commanded Dragon to back away from the station, as part of a test of the spacecraft's contingency abilities.

America has relied on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft for eight years after NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011.

This test flight didn't include crew - except for a high tech mannequin named "Ripley" - but it was meant to go through all the procedures of a crewed mission. A crewed test launch of the Crew Dragon with actual astronauts aboard could take place as soon as July.

The Commercial Crew Program is a very big deal for NASA.

Boeing's Starliner capsule will be tested in April, at the earliest. Around 11 minutes later, the Falcon 9 boosters and capsule detached from one another successfully.