SpaceX launches first Dragon crew capsule into space

The Dragon crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida

The Dragon crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket at the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida

At 2:49 a.m. ET today, SpaceX launched their latest Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket, ready for launch, sits on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, March 1, 2019. Around 11 minutes later, the Falcon 9 boosters and capsule detached from one another successfully.

Crew Dragon will dock to the forward port of the space station's Harmony module, which has been fitted with an International Docking Adaptor (IDA).

After its stay, the Dragon capsule will undock from the station, return to Earth and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast.

It's been a momentous Saturday for SpaceX, and for the future of crewed voyages into space.

The US is about to take a major step towards being able to fly its astronauts into space once again.

The excitement was palpable at Cape Canaveral, from the space-fan volunteers guiding media on site, to the tourists who came to watch.

NASA has had to hitch rides with Russian space vehicles to get its astronauts to the space station since NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011, reportedly paying about $82 million a seat.

"We really have one exploration campaign, but we have three theaters: We have low-Earth orbit, we have the moon, and we have Mars", Bridenstine said. More safety checks are also in store.

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"I fully expect we're going to learn something on this flight", said Bill Gerstenmaier, Nasa's head of human spaceflight.

The unmanned launch is the first stage of the Demo-1 mission, created to test the capabilities of the capsule over the next week, as it heads toward the International Space Station.

All this particular mission is carrying is a test dummy and 90kg of supplies. Crew now aboard the ISS completed a checkout of the docking port in advance of Saturday's launch, and verified the docking system was "go" for docking.

For SpaceX, this flight is a key milestone in its 17-year history.

Bridenstine said he was "100 per cent confident" those flights would happen this year. But he stressed it was more important to move deliberately so "we get it right".

The mission, called Demonstration-1 or DM-1, is meant to show NASA that Crew Dragon is safe for future human crew members. The company sent the spacecraft for its first unmanned test mission with a dummy, named Ripley, on board.

From launch to splash landing, the mission is full of critical "firsts" for NASA's Commercial Crew program.

A crowd cheered as the rocket blasted off in a ball of fire and smoke and flash of light early Saturday, within minutes reaching speeds upwards of 4,000 miles per hour as it gained altitude.

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