SpaceX Just Made History With the Launch of Its Crew Dragon Spacecraft

The US may have moved one step closer to weaning itself off its reliance on Russian Federation to get astronauts into space as SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule has embarked on its first test mission to the International Space Station.

"It's been a long eight years", said Bob Cabana, the Kennedy Space Center's director and a former astronaut. "To be frank, I'm a little emotionally exhausted", he said.

SpaceX's capsule is now en route to the International Space Station, which flies about 254 miles above Earth at tremendous speeds: about 10 times faster than a bullet.

A few minutes after first and second stage separation, the main stage successfully executed a controlled landing on SpaceX's droneship in the Atlantic - the company's 35th successful landing of a rocket booster.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with a demo Crew Dragon spacecraft on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station lifts off.

The launch systems are aimed at ending USA reliance on Russian rockets for rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth, at about $80 million per ticket.

He said: "That is something we have to practise in preparation for crewed flight to make sure we're fast in the right spots, and have all the potential medical attention at the right time". NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing to design and build crew-carrying spacecraft to shepherd astronauts to and from the space station - replacements for the Space Shuttle, which NASA retired in 2011.

Saturday's flight aims to test the vessel's reliability and safety in real-life conditions.

Ripley - nicknamed in honor of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies - is fitted with monitors to test the forces that future astronauts will be subjected to on takeoff and when they return to the Earth's atmosphere and then land in the Atlantic, braked by giant parachutes.

Although SpaceX has been flying a cargo-based version of the Dragon to the station since 2012, the new Dragon has been entirely remade for crew.

NASA's administrator Jim Bridenstine said, "We're looking to a future where we can be a customer, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in lower Earth orbit". Watch NASA's livestream of the event beginning at 7:30 a.m CST below. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

Those Soyuz contracts were set to run out in 2019 and NASA recently moved to secure a couple more seats for late 2019 and the spring of 2020 in case Boeing and SpaceX aren't ready this year.

But the program has suffered delays as safety requirements are much more stringent for manned flights than for unmanned missions to deploy satellites.

In 2014, the United States space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task. The SpaceX company employees cheered until the capsule reached orbit.

In less than a decade, it has become a key partner for NASA, in addition to dominating the market for private satellite launches.

  • Joe Gonzales