Dragon roars: SpaceX's first crew test flight goes well so far

The capsule is expected to reach the International Space Station on Sunday

America's newest capsule for astronauts is rocketing toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX.

A video grab from the Space X webcast transmission on March 2 showed a dummy named Ripley onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

While Saturday's SpaceX test mission is a crucial step in the oft-delayed project, there are questions about whether NASA can achieve its 2019 flight goal of manned flight. The SpaceX company employees cheered until the capsule reached orbit. That will be the first launch of American astronauts aboard a US rocket since the shuttle program ended in 2011.

The successful launch puts SpaceX one step closer to an historic landmark: Crew Dragon could be the first commercially built spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts to orbit. The craft will remain docked for five days before de-orbiting and splashing into the Atlantic at the end of next week. That's the main reason he founded SpaceX in 2002, the billionaire entrepreneur has said repeatedly over the years - to help humanity become a multiplanet species.

The dummy that will ride in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - has been nicknamed Ripley in honor of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies. The Crew Dragon spacecraft unmanned test flight launched early Saturday morning.

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"It's been a long eight years", the Kennedy Space Center's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket.

The booster for Boeing's capsule is a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket built in Decatur, Ala.

He said: "That is something we have to practise in preparation for crewed flight to make sure we're fast in the right spots, and have all the potential medical attention at the right time". The US space agency has been paying Russian Federation roughly $81 million for a single seat on the Soyuz spaceship every time it needs to ferry an astronaut to or from the ISS.

"It's been 17 years, we still haven't launched anyone yet, but hopefully we will later this year". Previous Dragon vehicles have been grabbed and hauled to the docking port by the station's robotic arm.

For employees of SpaceX-who have worked to bring Crew Dragon to fruition for most of the last decade-Saturday morning's launch proved cathartic. Then it would disembark and fly back to Earth, where it would fall through the atmosphere, a big test for the spacecraft's heat shield and parachute system. Provided this demo mission proceeds as planned, the Crew Dragon will have to demonstrate its safety in one more "in-flight abort test", scheduled for later this year.

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