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

Christopher Davidson
March 3, 2019

Affixed to the top of a Falcon 9 booster, the rounded cone capsule of the Crew Dragon blasted off in a blaze of fire and smoke from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:49 a.m. ET Saturday.

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. Today, SpaceX launched a new Crew Dragon capsule to demonstrate their readiness for manned spaceflight.

The Crew Dragon is expected to reach the space station Sunday morning, merely 27 hours after liftoff.

The launch is a milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from United States territory later this year.

Looking even farther out, "maybe there's something beyond space station", he said.

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". So, that is certainly going to be something new that we haven't done before. The Crew Dragon includes a new emergency escape system, first tested in 2015, that's created to carry astronauts to safety if there's an emergency.

Reuters reported on February 21 that SpaceX and Boeing both must address significant design and safety concerns before they can fly humans.

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The company also said that such information, if any, should at least be disclosed to carriers. The company has denied any wrongdoing and said it expects to be found innocent in court.

It's been a momentous Saturday for SpaceX, and for the future of crewed voyages into space. The private company overhauled the cargo Dragon capsule to make it safe - and comfortable - for passengers.

"We want to make sure we keep our partnership with Russian Federation, which has been very strong for a long period of time", explained Bridenstine before the flight. Musk said the redesigned capsule has "hardly a part in common" with its predecessor.

To do that, the capsule is fitted with life-support systems, a fourth parachute (instead of the usual three) and more powerful thrusters to help control the vessel, should anything go wrong. It's gone through many iterations down the years and now has an extensive flight history. "And then re-entry", Musk said at a press conference, held in the Kennedy Space Center, when asked which stages of the Dragon 2 mission he anxious about most. 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.

"We instrumented the crap out of that vehicle", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program.

At Saturday's post-launch news conference, Musk said he'd be happy to fly on the revamped Dragon. It marks the 35th such recovery by SpaceX.

"When you're here, right, there's a pride in the country".

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