SpaceX successfully launches unmanned crew capsule into orbit

SpaceX successfully launches unmanned crew capsule into orbit

That the docking procedure went without error is not only a sigh of relief for NASA's Commercial Crew Program-the project to replace the retired Space Shuttle that is years behind schedule-but excellent news for the three astronauts now residing on the station.

Crew Dragon capsule, the company's very first vehicle created to carry people to space, is on the verge of flying humans to space, with a critical test flight underway.

The excitement was palpable Friday at Cape Canaveral, where a day earlier the rocket was wheeled out of its hangar and staged in a vertical position on the legendary launch pad where the Apollo Moon missions took off.

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. Behnken, interviewed on NASA TV after the docking, said it was "super exciting" to see the spacecraft successfully dock to station. The agency chose two companies for the unique public-private partnership to assure safe, reliable and cost-effective access to space while avoiding the perils of one provider having a monopoly.

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.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon can now check another milestone off its list. While cargo Dragon spacecraft have been pulled in for their berthing with the station's robotic arm, the Crew Dragon is built to guide itself autonomously to its hookup.

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SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded as crew Dragon pulled up and docked at the orbiting lab, almost 260 miles (400 kilometres) above the Pacific, north of New Zealand. The capsule will remain at the ISS for another five days.

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

No one is onboard the craft for the test flight with the exception of a test dummy named Ripley.

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.

NASA's agreement with the Russian space program Roscomos is rapidly coming to an end, and without a new agreement in place or crew-capable spacecrafts of its own, NASA astronauts would have no presence aboard the orbiting laboratory.

NASA's associate administrator for human exploration Bill Gerstenmaier said using a private company for astronaut launches would not compromise on standards. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

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