SpaceX launches unmanned capsule to space station

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know

A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule blasted off on Saturday for the International Space Station, in a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from USA soil later this year.

Eastern Time (10:51 GMT) after 27 hours after the capsule's launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

MARTIN: But if all goes according to plan, Bridenstine says this is the dawn of a new era in human spaceflight.

McClaine: "On behalf of Ripley, little Earth and myself, welcome to the Crew Dragon".

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 previous year. SpaceX's new crew capsule arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, acing its second milestone in just over a day. GNC system performance must be demonstrated during ascent, on-orbit operations, and reentry.

An estimated 5,000 NASA and contractor employees, tourists and journalists gathered in the wee hours at Kennedy Space Center with the SpaceX launch team, as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off before dawn from the same spot where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles once soared.

It's a six day mission in the Crew Dragon is scheduled to splash back down to earth next Friday morning.

"Dragon confirmed in good orbit", SpaceX confirmed at 3:00 a.m. After reaching the 400-meter point, Dragon was set to move in front of the station, 150 meters away - before automatically docking at 1100 GMT. During a crewed mission, astronauts aboard the spacecraft will have the capability to intervene and fly the vehicle manually, if needed.

Crew Dragon is coming back to Earth: What to know

Following the retirement of American shuttles, NASA paid companies such as SpaceX and Boeing about $8 billion to build and operate crew capsules to carry astronauts to and from the space station. Because it was created to carry humans, it has an advanced emergency escape system that will allow the crew to safely escape should anything go wrong. TV cameras on Dragon as well as the station provided stunning views of one another throughout the rendezvous.

The Dragon passed all of its pre-docking tests, clearing the way for the docking.

This morning, I monitored the first time ever approach and automated docking of Crew #Dragon to the ISS.

The ship successfully docked in autonomous mode and the astronauts tweeted pictures with the ship's inhabitants.

The Dragon has been used for supply missions, but it was always meant to carry people.

These will record the forces and the environment experienced inside the capsule.

With the successful launch and docking procedure now behind it, only one important test remains for SpaceX's test flight: the return trip. Lessons learned, including the addition of heaters to the thrusters' fuel lines, will allow the removal of those thermal constraints for the Demo-2 mission. Aboard Dragon is Ripley, a mannequin fitted with instruments to gather data during the flight, along with 181 kg of supplies and equipment.

The crew capsule is based on the ISS cargo freighter but incorporates life-support systems and more powerful thrusters to push the vessel to safety if something goes wrong with the rocket. The rocket lifts off and after a couple of minutes, it performs a stage separation. Like its Dragon 1 predecessor, the Dragon 2 capsule will separate from the spacecraft's trunk prior to reentry.

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