Published: Wed, March 06, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX Rocket With Unmanned US Capsule Blasts Off For Space

SpaceX Rocket With Unmanned US Capsule Blasts Off For Space

The dummy in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - is fitted with monitors to test the forces to which future astronauts will be subjected on take-off and when they return to the Earth's atmosphere and then splash down in the Atlantic, slowed down by giant parachutes.

"A new generation of space flight starts now with the arrival of @SpaceX's Crew Dragon to the @Space_Station", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted.

SpaceX is interested in flying Crew Dragon passengers other than government astronauts but hasn't begun prospecting for customers, Musk said Saturday at a news conference at the Kennedy Space Center.

The US still uses Russian Soyuz spacecraft for sending astronauts to the space station.

The Crew Dragon used the station's new worldwide docking adapter for the first time since astronauts installed it during a spacewalk in August 2016, following its delivery to the station in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on its ninth commercial resupply services mission.

The crew Dragon is the first American-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to pull up to the station in eight years. The Crew Dragon capsule docked with the ISS on Sunday. After a successful lift off the ship is now heading towards the International Space Station (ISS) where it will be docked for five days before heading back to Earth.

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With permission to enter the Keep Out Sphere (KOS), Dragon approached to within 150 meters of the docking port, where the station's crew will test a retreat command.

Both astronauts - Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken - were at SpaceX Mission Control in Southern California, observing all the action. Elon Musk says that they might fly people aboard it by summer if things go according to plan.

Through next Friday, the Crew Dragon must meet a series of milestones. The test dummy was nicknamed Ripley after the main character in the "Alien" movies. Now Russian rockets are the only way to get astronauts to the 250-mile-high outpost. After remaining in this position for approximately 10 minutes, Dragon will be cleared to proceed to 20 meters for another brief hold, followed by docking to the ISS.

"We want to maximise our learning so we can get this stuff ready so that when we put crew on, we're ready to go do a real crew mission, and it'll be the right safety for our crews".

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

Next up, though, is Boeing, which is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

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