Elon Musk's SpaceX takes major step towards reviving USA astronaut presence

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

A veteran of two spaceflights, Garrett Reisman left NASA in 2011 to play a senior role in the development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX until previous year.

Crew Dragon is the first commercially operated spacecraft created to carry astronauts, and the uncrewed demonstration mission to the International Space Station is a test to make sure everything works before humans are rocketed into space in the capsule.

Around 11 minutes later, the Falcon 9 boosters and capsule detached from one another successfully.

Crew Dragon is carrying a dummy named Ripley, named for the "Alien" protagonist, instead of people.

"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).

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasted its brand-new Dragon spacecraft into orbit for the first time early Saturday morning, and so far everything has gone well.

Elon Musk's SpaceX has launched a rocket out of the Earth's atmosphere, in a major step towards reviving America's human spaceflight programme.

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Keeping its options open, the U.S. space agency in 2014 awarded contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task. Demo-1 is a critical step for NASA and SpaceX to demonstrate the ability to safely fly missions with NASA astronauts to the orbital laboratory. The best way to advance the system design was to fly this spacecraft and uncover any other areas or integrated flight changes that might be required, according to NASA.

An uncrewed demonstration mission took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida just before 3 am ET.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft.

The Dragon carried 400 pounds of crew supplies and equipment - slightly more than the weight of two astronauts - to the station.

The capsule will dock with the ISS on March 3, before unlocking for its return on March 8. It's expected to parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, which will be a couple of hundred miles off Florida's coast.

Two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, watched the spectacle from Kennedy's Launch Control. They plan to be aboard the next Crew Dragon when it takes off for Demo-2, the program's piloted test flight in July. After NASA retired its shuttle fleet in 2011, the USA has relied on Russian Federation to bring astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

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