Published: Mon, March 04, 2019
Sci-tech | By Laverne Osborne

New SpaceX astronaut capsule successfully launched on ISS test mission

New SpaceX astronaut capsule successfully launched on ISS test mission

In this photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon is pictured just beside the International Space Station.

The spacecraft attached to ISS via "soft capture" at 5:51 a.m.

SpaceX, a commercial company founded by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind the Tesla electric vehicle, launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft early yesterday, lifting off on the company's Falcon 9 rocket from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

The linkup came 27 hours after the Crew Dragon's launch early Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Both astronauts were at SpaceX Mission Control in California, observing all the action.

The rendezvous with the orbiting lab marks the first time that Crew Dragon, created to eventually carry astronauts, has ever flown and raises the stakes for rival Boeing Co, which also has a contract with Nasa as part of what is known as the agency's "Commercial Crew" programme. After allowing the air in the craft to mix with the air in the station, the astronauts returned without oxygen masks to properly welcome Crew Dragon - by installing window covers and checking valves. And it will dock with the orbiting laboratory on Sunday to drop off about 400 pounds of supplies before it flies back home five days later.

"Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking", Anne McClain, the NASA astronaut now on the station, said shortly after the spacecraft docked. It follows an eight-year lapse from the last flight of the Space Shuttle during which America has bought seats on Russian Soyuz rockets for crew trips to the station.

The Falcon rocket is the same vehicle the company uses to loft cargo to the International Space Station and to put satellites in orbit.

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Furthermore, the crew variant of Dragon 2 is one of two spacecraft that will return domestic crew launch capability to the United States, the other being Boeing's CST-100 Starliner.

"It was super exciting to see it", Bob Behnken, one of the two astronauts slated to ride in the Crew Dragon's first crewed test later this year (possibly in July), told the BBC.

At Saturday's post-launch news conference, Musk said he'd be happy to fly on the revamped Dragon.

Known as Demo-1, SpaceX's inaugural flight with NASA's Commercial Crew Program is considered a important uncrewed mission created to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new system.

"Thank you on behalf of SpaceX", CEO Elon Musk tweeted in reply. "Unless something goes wrong I should think we'll be flying (people) this year; this summer, hopefully".

"We're going to learn a ton from this mission, " said NASA's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders.

"Today represents a new era in space flight" said Jim Bridenstine, head of the U.S. space agency who sees the launch as a step toward the privatization of low Earth orbit.

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