SpaceX Launches Unmanned Capsule To International Space Station

The launch of SpaceX's new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule was a dress rehearsal for the first manned test flight. AFP  Jim WATSON

The launch of SpaceX's new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule was a dress rehearsal for the first manned test flight. AFP Jim WATSON

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station lifts off.

It's carrying a dummy named: "Ripley" after Sigourney Weaver's character in the "Alien" Franchise. SpaceX has been developing Crew Dragon under a $2.6 billion commercial-crew contract with NASA, after all. After opening its nose cone for navigational purposes, Dragon is now spending about 24 hours performing a series of phasing maneuvers to bring it toward the International Space Station, where it will dock at around 6am ET Sunday.

But the lessons learned should improve safety when two NASA astronauts strap into a Dragon as early as July.

Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has been unable to fly people to space and has been forced to rely on Russian Federation to ferry its astronauts to the space station, the orbiting laboratory about 250 miles above the Earth.

"Man, we were all working so hard to get to the start of flying this new vehicle-it was super exhilarating", he said.

SpaceX is making history by starting a new era in American space exploration.

Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Mission Assurance at SpaceX said Ripley was vital for future manned flights.

The site of the landmark launch was Pad 39A, which has previously seen NASA's Saturn rockets carry astronauts to the moon aboard Apollo spacecraft and the famous launches of NASA's space shuttles. Across the country at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, company employees went wild, cheering every step of the way until the capsule successfully reached orbit. "We're pretty good at throwing things into space".

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Assuming everything goes well for Demo-1, the first Crew Dragon launch to carry actual humans into space could come as soon as summer 2019.

The mission, called Demonstration-1 or DM-1, is meant to show NASA that Crew Dragon is safe for future human crew members.

NASA is anxious for reliable transit to and from the space station.

"People have gone to space station on Soyuz", he said this morning during a post-launch press conference here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, referring to the handful of private citizens who have flown aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft (and reportedly plunked down between $20 million and $40 million apiece to do so).

"We're going to take it day by day", Bridenstine said of the timeline.

Dragon 2 is a reusable spacecraft designed as a successor to the Dragon space freighter. Musk said the redesigned capsule has "hardly a part in common" with its predecessor.

The docking represents a "very critical mission", Kirk Shireman, the manager of NASA's space station program, told reporters last week.

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