SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.9 meters) Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 2:49 a.m. (0749 GMT), carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley. In fact, NASA astronauts could be traveling on board in a Crew Dragon trial flight as early as July this year. The capsule is now headed to the International Space Station and should dock with the space laboratory on Sunday at approximately 6 a.m. ET.
Looking on from Kennedy's Launch Control were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second space demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. If all goes according to plan, Starship and Super Heavy will launch a Japanese billionaire and numerous other passengers on a round-the-moon mission in 2023, and perhaps send the first people toward Mars a few years later. "I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation's space history". The spacecraft will rely on its computers to autonomously fly the spacecraft gently alongside the station and then attach itself to one of the docking ports.
Boeing is now scheduled to follow SpaceX's flight with an uncrewed test launch of its Starliner spacecraft as early as next month.
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.
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If successful, the mission launched on Saturday and the upcoming manned launch will allow NASA to certify the new spacecraft for regular flights to the space station.
In 2014, the United States space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task. The spacecraft is the first commercially built vehicle designed for humans to fly to the space station.
Assuming everything goes well for Demo-1, the first Crew Dragon launch to carry actual humans into space could come as soon as summer 2019. 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.
The launch comes nine years after NASA invested about £38million ($50million) into its Commercial Crew Program. Musk said the redesigned capsule has "hardly a part in common" with its predecessor.
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Boeing also received a contract in 2014 to develop a space vessel, the Starliner.
"We're going to take it day by day", Bridenstine said of the timeline.
"The next big leap in a new chapter of USA human spaceflight systems has left the pad", NASA wrote on Twitter.
Musk anticipates eventually selling Dragon rides to private citizens, much as the Russians have done, first to the space station and then perhaps beyond.
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