SpaceX has successfully launched its all new Crew Dragon spacecraft for the first time with a dummy astronaut on board.
Bound for the International Space Station, Elon Musk’s newest space craft blasted off on top of a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday morning.
The only passenger was a life-size test dummy, named Ripley after the lead character in the “Alien” movies. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of its crew Dragon capsule before putting people on board later this year.
The space craft launched at 2.49am local time (7.49am UK time).
This latest, flashiest Dragon is on a fast track to reach the space station Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff.
It will spend five days docked to the orbiting outpost, before making a retro-style splashdown in the Atlantic next Friday – all vital training for the next space demo, possibly this summer, when two astronauts strap in.
“This is critically important … We’re on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He got a special tour of the pad on the eve of launch, by SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk.
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 from the same spot where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles once soared.
Looking on were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second space demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. It’s been eight years since Hurley and three other astronauts flew the last space shuttle mission, and human launches from Florida ceased.
Since ending its previous shuttle programme in 2011, the space agency has had to buy seats on board Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft instead – an expensive arrangement, costing 81 million dollars a seat.
Alongside the dummy is equipment weighing about 400 pounds, to make it similar to future launches when people would be on board.
If the rest of the journey is successful, Crew Dragon is expected to reach the ISS at 6.05am (11.05am UK time) on Sunday.
Nasa will be scrutinising data from the test, in hopes of awarding SpaceX with certification to carry a crew.