SpaceX successfully launches spacecraft designed for astronauts

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

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

"SpaceX's Crew Dragon, created to transport astronauts to the International Space Station from USA soil, is flying on its own in orbit following an on-time launch".

SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.9 meter) Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at TK 2:49 a.m. (0749 GMT), carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley.

This handout photo released by NASA shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-1 mission on March 1, 2019 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Early on Sunday morning, the capsule will dock with the ISS to drop off its cargo.

NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, slated to be on the first SpaceX test flight with humans, said the prospect of the mission "is pretty exciting".

Either SpaceX or Boeing will have bragging rights as the first private company to launch humans into space on its own rocket, although plans call for rockets built by both companies to carry astronauts into space.

"We're going to have more access to space at a better cost than at any point in human history", said Bridenstine, adding he was "100 per cent confident" that a manned flight would happen by year's end.

For SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment. In 2014, as part of the "commercial crew" program, the agency awarded contracts worth a combined $6.8 billion to SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft capable of flying up to four astronauts to the station at a time.

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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". Dragon 1 and attach it to the space station. The Crew Dragon spacecraft unmanned test flight launched early Saturday morning.

"We want to make sure we keep our partnership with Russian Federation, which has been very strong for a long period of time", explained Bridenstine before the flight.

The capsule is created to dock and undock automatically with the space station.

"We're only partway through the mission", Musk said. He marvels at how the Dragon has just 30 buttons and touch screens, compared with the space shuttle cockpit's 2,000 switches and circuit breakers.

"Seeing a success like this definitely gives us a lot of confidence in the future, " Behnken said. NASA is providing eight billion USA dollars for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems.

Saturday's flight "is the next critical step in putting people on Dragon", he said.

The docking port itself is new and has never been used.

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