Published: Mon, March 04, 2019
Science | By Celia Watts

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule set for historic test flight

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule set for historic test flight

SpaceX's new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule was on its way to the International Space Station on Saturday after it successfully launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket.

A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket, ready for launch, sits on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

America's newest capsule for astronauts rocketed Saturday toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX.

The initial SpaceX mission to the ISS will be crewed by NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins, according to the space agency. On March 8, Crew Dragon is scheduled to return back to Earth.

Since the shuttle Atlantis returned to earth on July 21, 2011, no U.S. astronaut has blasted off from American soil to go to the global.

"We call it a smarty, and her name is Ripley", SpaceX vice president of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said in yesterday's pre-launch briefing.

Though Demo-1 is astronaut-free, Crew Dragon is carrying one lifeless - but lifelike - passenger, a dummy outfitted with a variety of sensors so scientists can measure the forces exerted on the body during the mission.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk, who founded the company in 2002, was at the space center for the occasion. "You guys think it's a good vehicle, right?" he asked Behnken and Hurley, seated alongside him.

Routine missions to the space station could start later this year. Moments later the Crew Dragon completely separated from the rocket and began making its own way to the ISS.

NASA officials initially said that their Russian colleagues had concerns related to the United States agency's lack of a backup computer system to prevent Crew Dragon from colliding with the ISS if the vehicle goes dead. Boeing is going with royal blue spacesuits for its Starliner capsule crews.

"We are not in a space race", he said.

It pays Russian Federation to get its people up to the ISS orbiting research facility at a cost of US$82 million a head, for a round trip. Those precautions include additional thrusters in case they need to abort after launch but before reaching orbit, and an extra parachute (four instead of the usual three) for landing.

It will be the first commercial crew mission to visit the ISS. "Where risk has been retired and markets develop, we want to be a customer".

The excitement was palpable at Cape Canaveral, from the space-fan volunteers guiding media on site, to the tourists come to watch the launch light up the Florida coastline, to the Kennedy Space Center's director, former astronaut Bob Cabana.

The first crewed flight for SpaceX will take place some time in July.

"Human spaceflight is a core value of business of SpaceX".

Beyond technological advancements, the industry experts say the commercial nature of these vehicles indicates industry growth, as well as human spaceflight advancements.

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