SpaceX, NASA Launch Crew Dragon on Crucial Test Flight to Space Station

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

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.

After holding position to await more favorable lighting, the spacecraft resumed its approach and eased in for docking, engaging the station's International Docking Adapter at 5:51 a.m. EST (GMT-5) as the two vehicles passed 257 miles above the Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand.

It's a test flight without crew aboard, created to demonstrate the potential for carrying astronauts into orbit on a commercial spacecraft.

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.

Applause broke out at SpaceX's control centre in Hawthorne, California, as Crew Dragon, and its "astronaut dummy" Ripley, secured itself to the station with a set of hooks and latches.

The launch is a key step towards resuming manned space flights from U.S. soil after an eight-year break. NASA and SpaceX will use data from Demo-1, along with planned upgrades and additional qualification testing, to further prepare for Demo-2. But the lessons learned should improve safety when two NASA astronauts strap into a Dragon as early as July.

While Saturday's SpaceX test mission is a crucial step in the long-delayed project, there are questions about whether NASA can achieve its 2019 flight goal. It's carrying a dummy named: "Ripley" after Sigourney Weaver's character in the "Alien" Franchise.

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Boeing is also in the race to end NASA's eight-year drought of launching USA astronauts on US rockets from USA soil.

Boeing's Starliner is slated to fly its first demo mission without a crew no earlier than April.

The Falcon 9 rocket booster landed on a droneship in the Atlantic at about 3 a.m. Saturday, SpaceX said, making it the 35th successful landing of one of the company's rocket boosters.

Shotwell said she looks at the Earth's population and sees billions of potential customers for future SpaceX flights that feature tourists instead of astronauts."The work we're doing, and others as well, will completely change how we think about our world, our solar system, and candidly, life on Earth", she said. 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.

After the shuttle program was shuttered in 2011 after a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions.

Ten minutes after a picture flawless launch, the SpaceX rocket's first stage successfully touched down on a recovery ship 300 miles off the Florida coast.

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