SpaceX Crew Dragon, Built to Carry Humans, Launches Demo Flight

NASA plans to put two astronauts aboard by the end of the year

Carrying a mannequin and 400 pounds of supplies, the company's Dragon spacecraft was hurled into orbit on its way to the International Space Station in a crucial flight for both NASA and SpaceX, the California company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule lifts off from pad 39A on Saturday in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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 US soil later this year. Dragon has to safely dock with the station, which is expected to happen Sunday morning.

Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has been unable to fly people to space and has been forced to rely on Russian Federation to ferry its astronauts to the space station, the orbiting laboratory about 250 miles above the Earth.

"Today represents a new era in space flight" said Jim Bridenstine, head of the U.S. space agency who sees the launch as a step toward the privatization of low Earth orbit. The big first is whether the capsule's autonomous systems can maneuver and dock with the station.

Hans Koenigsmann, Vice President of Mission Assurance at SpaceX said Ripley was vital for future manned flights. 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.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, its first spacecraft created to carry humans, took flight for the first time Saturday. "We're pretty good at throwing things into space". The spacecraft is the first commercially built vehicle designed for humans to fly to the space station.

Boeing aims to conduct the first test flight of its Starliner capsule in April, with astronauts on board possibly in August. "It's done. Now we're in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right".

NASA is anxious for reliable transit to and from the space station.

"We're only partway through the mission", Musk said.

"Seeing a success like this definitely gives us a lot of confidence in the future, " Behnken said.

"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew programme.

While the Dragon spacecraft launched successfully Saturday, the mission still has several significant hurdles to clear.

At Saturday's post-launch news conference, Musk said he'd be happy to fly on the revamped Dragon. The mission is a test to win the approval of NASA, which is set to use the technology later this year if all goes well.

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