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

Katie Ramirez
March 3, 2019

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

The Crew Dragon launched lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 7.49 am GMT, (2.49am EST).

Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Mission Assurance at SpaceX said Ripley was vital for future manned flights. The SpaceX company employees cheered until the capsule reached orbit. "This one will be a big step!" retired astronaut Scott Kelly, NASA's former one-year space station resident, tweeted Thursday.

Elon Musk sees a bright and busy future for SpaceX's newly debuted Crew Dragon capsule. The capsule will then spend five days docked to the orbiting outpost and then return to Earth on Friday, landing in the Atlantic.

Currently, the space agency and its astronauts rely on Russian rockets and crew capsules to ferry Americans to and from ISS - an agreement with Roscosmos that ends in early 2020.

In 2014, the USA space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task.

The dummy riding in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - has been nicknamed Ripley in honour of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies.

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Carrying a mannequin and 400 pounds of supplies, the company's Dragon spacecraft was hurled into orbit on its way to the International Space Station in a crucial flight for both NASA and SpaceX, the California company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk.

"From liftoff to splashdown, essentially she's going to tell us how she feels during the whole mission", a SpaceX senior dynamics engineer says in an informational video. 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. NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

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. "Unless something goes wrong I should think we'll be flying (people) this year; this summer, hopefully".

About 5,000 NASA and contractor employees, tourists and journalists gathered Saturday to watch the launch.

It features four seats, three windows, touch-screen computer displays and life-support equipment, as well as eight abort engines to pull the capsule to safety in the event of a launch emergency. Cargo Dragon must be maneuvered with the station's robot arm. Teams still have work to do after this flight to prepare the spacecraft to fly astronauts.

If all goes smoothly, Crew Dragon could conduct a second test flight, with live crew, as soon as April.

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