Published: Wed, March 06, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

SpaceX rocket with unmanned U.S. capsule blasts off for space station

SpaceX rocket with unmanned U.S. capsule blasts off for space station

NASA has awarded millions of dollars to Space X and Boeing to design and operate a capsule to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil some time this year.

The two will be joined by NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch for the launch aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, NASA said.

The capsule is expected to reach the International Space Station and dock with it autonomously for the first time.

A sleek new American-built capsule with just a test dummy aboard docked smoothly with the International Space Station on Sunday, bringing the USA a big step closer to getting back in the business of launching astronauts.

Crew Dragon holding at 20 meters Crew Dragon holds at 20 meters from the station's forward docking point during its inaugural test flight on 3 March 2019.

CNN noted that the successful docking procedure was a first for SpaceX, which has already run Dragon 1 capsule cargo missions to the ISS but previously relied on the station's robotic arm to grab that craft and manually drag it to the docking port.

The station astronauts offered congratulations to SpaceX, as they got ready to open the hatches and collect the supplies stashed aboard Dragon. SpaceX launched the dummy and the Earth Celestial Buddies plush toy on Crew Dragon Saturday.

Though dates can shift, the latest schedule from NASA has SpaceX conducting an in-flight abort test in June and then following up in July with Demo-2, a flight that will take NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS.

SpaceX rocket launches towards the International Space Station

The only way astronauts can get to space are via Russian rockets, yet the cost of using them has steeply risen over the years.

Saint-Jacques and Kononenko were the first to enter the Crew Dragon after opening the hatch. They burst into applause again, several minutes later, when the Dragon's latches were tightly secured.

The capsule from the California company founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk didn't include actual crew members - except for a life-size dummy named Ripley, who was named after the lead character in the "Alien" movies.

Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses, and to monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems throughout the flight.

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

For SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment. NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

NASA says that Boeing's CST-100 Starliner continues to undergo testing in preparation for its Orbital Flight Test, slated for no earlier than April.

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