Published: Sun, March 03, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX rocket launches towards the International Space Station

SpaceX rocket launches towards the International Space Station

A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule has successfully blasted off from a launch pad in the U.S. state of Florida bound for the International Space Station.

The Crew Dragon launched lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 7.49 am GMT, (2.49am EST).

If all goes well with this flight and an upcoming emergency-escape test, Crew Dragon could fly two NASA astronauts to the orbiting lab this summer. No private company has ever launched humans into orbit, and during a webcast of the launch, SpaceX employees could be seen packed into the main foyer of the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., cheering each milestone.

After the shuttle program was shut down in July 2011 following a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions.

A veteran of two spaceflights, Garrett Reisman left NASA in 2011 to play a senior role in the development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX until past year.

The capsule is due to stay on the ISS for a period of five days, where it will undergo testing from the station's resident astronauts.

The only way astronauts can get to space are via Russian rockets, yet the cost of using them has steeply risen over the years. Both Boeing and SpaceX are hoping to have a manned flight later this year.

The only passenger is a life-size test dummy, named Ripley from the "Alien" movies.

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Crew Dragon launched to orbit for the first time ever this morning (March 2), kicking off an uncrewed, six-day demonstration mission to the International Space Station (ISS) known as Demo-1.

Boeing is now scheduled to follow SpaceX's flight with an uncrewed test launch of its Starliner spacecraft as early as next month.

The companies can still launch people this year - but things will have to go smoothly.

Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine said it was a new era where "we are looking forward to be being one customer, as an agency and as a country". Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat. "And I'm pretty sure it's not just me, I think everybody within SpaceX feels this and wants to get this right".

The booster for Boeing's capsule is a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket built in Decatur, Ala. But now there are four seats, three windows, computer touch screens and life-support systems.

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

This photo provided by SpaceX shows a test dummy in the new Dragon capsule designed for astronauts.

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