A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from pad 39A on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, March 2, 2019.
Astronaut Anne McClain inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon now docked with the International Space Station.
NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time since the US Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.
During the mission, SpaceX will test a variety of systems and components: the module's environmental control systems, solar arrays, electrical power systems, communication systems, propulsion systems and more. It's expected to dock Sunday at the space station. The successful maneuver was also greeted with cheers from the Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters of Elon Musk's ambitious space company.
This morning, I monitored the first time ever approach and automated docking of Crew #Dragon to the ISS.
The only passenger was a life-size test dummy, named Ripley after the lead character in the "Alien" movies.
Although the contact appeared slow, the ISS and the capsule were moving at more than 27,000km/h in orbit around the Earth.
"The next big leap in a new chapter of US human spaceflight systems has left the pad", NASA wrote on Twitter.
The Crew Dragon's autonomous capability caused some concern among Russian space officials in advance of today's rendezvous. The gumdrop-shaped craft also contained about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment.
The Dragon capsule will remain on the ISS until Friday before detaching to splash down in the Atlantic.
It will also be the first time that a fully owned and operated commercial enterprise has ferried USA astronauts into space.
The only way astronauts can get to space are via Russian rockets, yet the cost of using them has steeply risen over the years. Space travel is still a costly endeavor, but these capsules were developed in partnership with NASA and the price of a seat is about $30 million cheaper.
Ripley was joined in the ship's maiden flight by Little Earth - a plush toy which looks like the Earth with arms and legs.
"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said NASA's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders. The robot is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission", Anna Heiney wrote in a NASA blog. Boeing is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August.
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