SpaceX launches latest test flight with a life-sized crash dummy named Ripley

NASA plans to put two astronauts aboard by the end of the year

NASA plans to put two astronauts aboard by the end of the year

SpaceX celebrated the successful launch of its Crew Dragon capsule toward the International Space Station early on Saturday as a prelude to the resumption of manned USA space flights, possibly in the next year. If everything isn't ideal and ready to go right at 2:49 a.m. EST, the launch will be pushed back to Tuesday at the earliest.

From launch to splash landing, the mission is full of critical "firsts" for NASA's Commercial Crew program.

It is expected to reach the ISS later on Sunday.

If it's given the green light, SpaceX would also be the first private company to send an astronaut capsule with crew to the space station.

The booster carrying the uncrewed Dragon lifted off at 1:49 a.m. CST from historic Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center.

"Our honest congratulations to all earthlings who have enabled the opening of this next chapter in space exploration", NASA astronaut Anne McClain said from aboard the ISS during a welcoming ceremony for the Crew Dragon.

‘Astronaut’ dummy Ripley rides aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon bound for space station
That will be the first launch of American astronauts aboard a USA rocket since the shuttle program ended in 2011. SpaceX has been developing Crew Dragon under a $2.6 billion commercial-crew contract with NASA, after all.

It is to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, and then return to Cape Canaveral.

If all goes well, the completion of the test mission will instill confidence in NASA, SpaceX and even the astronauts slated to go on the first crewed mission - the first from US soil in eight years - that Elon Musk's SpaceX can perform the task.

In 2014, NASA signed contracts with private companies SpaceX and Boeing to create a manned spacecraft and ensure the delivery of astronauts to the ISS.

- Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) March 3, 2019The first @Commercial_Crew mission arrived at the space station today when the @SpaceX #CrewDragon completed soft capture on the Harmony module at 5:51am ET.

Enlarge / SpaceX founder Elon Musk shares a laugh with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, center, and Bob Behnken, in the launch control room at Kennedy Space Center Friday night.

Boeing is also in the race to end NASA's eight-year drought of launching USA astronauts on US rockets from USA soil.

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If all goes well, two NASA astronauts will trek to the space station in July.

"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew programme. Boeing is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August. Although there was no crew aboard this time, SpaceX's reusable capsule is created to carry up to seven astronauts to and from Earth's orbit.

Ever since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the USA has been hitching rides to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Its Falcon 9 rockets have resupplied the space station 15 times in seven years, even though one of them blew up in 2015.

On this mission, the only passenger is a dummy, a smart dummy named Ripley.

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