SpaceX Launches Crew Dragon

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule

Highlights from the SpaceX's historic Demo-1 Crew Dragon Test Flight from Kennedy Space Center.

Dragon 2, on the other hand, will not utilize the robotic arm, but rather use the onboard Draco thrusters to dock with the station.

If the current unpiloted demonstration flight goes well and no major problems develop with other upcoming tests, SpaceX hopes to launch Behnken and Hurley in July for what will be the first piloted US space mission in almost eight years. That "soft docking" was the first step in an hours-long procedure to latch the Crew Dragon securely to the station, hook up power and data connections, and open the way for hatch opening. While Falcon 9's have completed many successful lift-offs, today's was special because it is the first outing for SpaceX's new Crew Dragon module, created to take astronauts into orbit. The mission's success will determine whether NASA certifies Crew Dragon to carry astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley as early as July to the ISS.

Ten minutes after a picture ideal launch, the SpaceX rocket's first stage successfully touched down on a recovery ship 300 miles off the Florida coast.

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SpaceX's Crew Dragon - the first crew-capable spacecraft the company has ever produced - is about to be tested in a big way. Even though no one will be riding this rocket, Elon Musk's company has everything riding on the success of this mission.

No one is onboard the craft for the test flight with the exception of a test dummy named Ripley.

Not since the retirement of the shuttles in 2011 has America been able to put humans in orbit.

Why it matters: For almost a decade, NASA has been reliant on Russian rockets to put their astronauts into orbit.

"Congratulations to all nations, private space firms and individuals who wake up every day driven by the magic of exploration", American astronaut Anne McClain, the third crew member on the station, said at a welcoming ceremony broadcast over NASA TV. "We've got NASA "rocking" again," the president wrote. 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.

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SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded as crew Dragon pulled up and docked at the orbiting lab, almost 260 miles (400 kilometres) above the Pacific, north of New Zealand.

It's expected to touch down in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. That'll become crucial when NASA eventually sends astronauts up in Crew Dragon, which could happen as early as this summer, if all tests go as planned. That includes interior life-support systems, autonomous docking capability, an integrated launch escape system, and solar panels built into the spacecraft itself.

"We instrumented the crap out of that vehicle", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program.

It's a test flight without crew aboard, created to demonstrate the potential for carrying astronauts into orbit on a commercial spacecraft.

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Since then, it has been buying seats in Russian Soyuz rockets - the only ones capable of transporting humans there.

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