SpaceX Crew Access Arm: Bridge to the Crew Dragon

This image courtesy of SpaceX and obtained from NASA shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft rolled out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA Kennedy Space

This image courtesy of SpaceX and obtained from NASA shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft rolled out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA Kennedy Space

Demo-1 will mark a serious step forward for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which involves SpaceX and Boeing working to launch astronauts from USA soil.

SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.9 meter) Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 2:49 a.m. (0749 GMT), carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley.

As this is the first test flight of the Crew Dragon, the only life-sized object on board is a mannequin called "Ripley", named after Sigourney Weaver's character in the "Alien" films.

The last time NASA astronauts flew to the International Space Station on an American spacecraft was almost eight years ago.

If the rest of the SpaceX mission goes as planned, two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, could be flying aboard the Crew Dragon as early as July, NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reported.

"I don't see it as a step back in time so much as a version of something we know works", said Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut who flew on four space flights, including three shuttle missions. Ripley is similar to Starman, which blasted off previous year in the driver's seat of Musk's red Tesla convertible, on a test launch of the company's bigger Falcon Heavy rocket.

The unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon demonstration mission will test the spacecraft's capabilities and systems for crew transport to the ISS, a first for NASA and the worldwide space station.

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"It's different", said Mark Geyer, director of the Johnson Space Centre, where U.S. astronauts are based. It was set up by entrepreneur Elon Musk with the specific intention of taking people beyond Earth. Boeing's competing CST-100 Starliner has an Orbital Flight Test slated to occur in April, with plans for a crewed mission in August.

Herrera said anticipation for the launch has been stirring among station employees, reporters and space fans alike.

The Falcon 9 rocket booster landed on a droneship in the Atlantic at about 3 a.m. Saturday, SpaceX said, making it the 35th successful landing of one of the company's rocket boosters.

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.

". Crew Dragon spacecraft (is) built to carry astronauts into orbit".

In 2008, the agency first awarded $1.6 billion to Hawthorne-based SpaceX for 12 resupply flights and $1.9 billion for eight flights to Orbital ATK, which was acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp. a year ago. "They're very happy that it's covered, and we're trying to keep the mosquitoes out".

During the docking, the ISS crew will stay in a safe place, the Roscosmos official said.

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