America’s newest crew capsule rockets toward space station
2nd March 2019
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Blast off! Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launches test flight from Cape Canaveral with just one passenger – a dummy named Ripley – and will spend five days in orbit

  • Dragon capsule is set to reach space station on Sunday, 27 hours after liftoff, before splashdown next Friday
  • SpaceX hopes to send astronauts into space as early as summer – first time America has done for eight years 
  • Aerospace manufacturer already made 16 trips to space station in cargo Dragons, but this capsule is bigger 

Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocketed toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight today.

The Dragon capsule, whose only passenger was a life-size test dummy, dubbed Ripley after the lead character in the ‘Alien’ movies, will spend five days in orbit.

SpaceX needs to nail the debut of the capsule, which took off from Cape Canaveral in the early hours, before putting people on board later this year. 

The aerospace manufacturer hopes to send astronauts into space as early as this summer – the first time America has done so for eight years.

SpaceX has already made 16 trips to the space station using cargo Dragons, but this latest version is on a fast track to reach the space station on Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff.

After spending five days docked to the orbiting outpost, it will make a retro-style splashdown in the Atlantic next Friday.

‘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. 

America’s newest capsule for astronauts rocketed toward the International Space Station today after a successful launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida

SpaceX needs to nail the debut of the capsule before putting people on board later this year. NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are set to be the first pilots


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As the rocket took off, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken looked on.

The pair could strap into another Dragon capsule as early as July for the second space demo. 

Pictured: Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien (1979)

It’s been eight years since Hurley and three other astronauts flew the last space shuttle mission, and human launches from Florida ceased.

NASA turned to private companies, SpaceX and Boeing, and has provided them $8 billion to build and operate crew capsules to ferry astronauts to and from the space station. 

Now Russian rockets are the only way to get astronauts to the 250-mile-high outpost. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years – NASA currently pays $82million per seat.

Boeing aims to conduct the first test flight of its Starliner capsule in April, with astronauts on board possibly in August.

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.

Bridenstine said he’s confident that astronauts will soar on a Dragon or Starliner – or both – by year’s end. But he stressed there’s no rush.

The capsule’s only passenger was a test dummy (pictured), named Ripley after the lead character in the Alien movies

This latest, flashiest Dragon is on a fast track to reach the space station on Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff 

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken could strap in as early as July if this test flight goes well 

Pictured: the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket, ready for launch, sits on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, yesterday

‘We are not in a space race,’ he said. ‘That race is over. We went to the moon and we won. It’s done. Now we’re in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right.’

The white crew Dragon is slightly bigger than cargo versions – 27 feet (8 meters) tip to tip – and considerably fancier and safer.

It features four seats, three windows, touch-screen computer displays and life-support equipment, as well as eight abort engines to pull the capsule to safety in the event of a launch emergency. 

Solar cells are mounted on the spacecraft for electrical power, as opposed to the protruding solar wings on cargo Dragons.

‘It’s an incredibly sleek looking vehicle from the inside and it’s very easy to operate,’ Hurley told reporters just hours before liftoff. 

He said he marvels at how the Dragon has just 30 buttons and touch screens, compared with the space shuttle cockpit’s 2,000 switches and circuit breakers.

For the test, the Ripley dummy was strapped into the far left seat, wearing the company’s snappy white spacesuit. 

The other seats were empty, save for a small plush toy resembling Earth that was free to float once reaching zero-gravity. ‘Super high tech zero-g indicator added just before launch!’ Musk tweeted.

SpaceX already has made 16 trips to the space station using cargo Dragons – but this capsule is slightly bigger than those at  27 feet (8 meters) tip to tip, and considerably fancier and safer

The Dragon capsule features four seats, three windows, touch-screen computer displays and life-support equipment, as well as eight abort engines to pull the capsule to safety in the event of a launch emergency

As many as seven astronauts could squeeze in, although four will be the norm once flights get going, allowing for a little cargo room. 

About 450 pounds (200 kilograms) of supplies are going up on this flight.

The capsule is designed to dock and undock automatically with the space station. Cargo Dragon must be maneuvered with the station’s robot arm.

Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors. Engineers will be carefully watching sound, vibration and other stresses on the spacecraft, while monitoring the life-support, communication and propulsion systems. 

Some of the equipment needs more work – possibly even redesign – before serving human passengers.

‘We’re going to learn a ton from this mission,’ said NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders.

Flight operations team members – some of them new to this – also need the six-day trial run, according to Kennedy Space Center’s director, Robert Cabana.

The objective is to make the next demo flight, with Hurley and Behnken, as safe as possible. 

The more immediate goal is to avoid harming the space station and its three occupants: an American, Canadian and Russian.

Despite SpaceX’s success at recovering and reusing its rockets, NASA is insisting on brand new boosters from SpaceX for the crew capsule flights. 

The first-stage booster used Saturday aimed for a floating platform in the Atlantic, following the predawn liftoff. 

SpaceX plans to recycle the newly flying capsule for a high-altitude abort test this spring, along with a booster launched and retrieved a week ago.

It’s been eight years since Hurley and three other astronauts flew the last space shuttle mission, and human launches from Florida ceased 

As many as seven astronauts could squeeze in, although four will be the norm once flights get going, allowing for a little cargo room 

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