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Elon Musk’s SpaceX to Launch Crew Dragon Capsule to Space Station

04 March 2019

After the Crew Dragon autonomously docked at the Harmony module, Expedition 58 crewmembers - NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko - opened the hatch to the spacecraft at 8:07 a.m. EST (1307 GMT).

It's a test flight without crew aboard, created to demonstrate the potential for carrying astronauts into orbit on a commercial spacecraft.

The Crew Dragon is set to detach from the ISS on Friday morning before returning to Earth.

Astronaut Anne McClain inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon now docked with the International Space Station.

"Our honest congratulations to all earthlings who have enabled the opening of this next chapter in space exploration", NASA astronaut Anne McClain said from aboard the ISS during a welcoming ceremony for the Crew Dragon.

"The Crew Dragon is a fundamental redesign, with hardly a part in common with Dragon", SpaceX founder Elon Musk said early Saturday morning, after the launch, during a news briefing. It's expected to parachute into the Atlantic Ocean, which will be a couple of hundred miles off Florida's coast.

Boeing aims to conduct the first test flight of its Starliner capsule in April, with astronauts on board possibly in August. Needless to say, there's a lot riding on this demonstration and NASA is hoping that SpaceX knocked it out of the park.

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NASA is providing eight billion US dollars for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems. The test dummy - or Smarty as SpaceX likes to call it, given all the instrumentation - is named Ripley after the lead character in the science-fiction "Alien" films.

The space agency is turning to private taxi rides to reduce its pricey reliance on Russian rockets to get astronauts to and from the space station.

While optimistic, NASA is hedging its bets and plans to buy two more Soyuz seats, one for use this fall and the other next spring, to ensure USA astronauts will be aboard the space station through next year even if the commercial crew program runs into major problems and delays.

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 Boeing and SpaceX launch systems are aimed at ending U.S. 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. They watched the "Demo 1" launch from the Kennedy Space Center early Saturday and flew to California to monitor the docking from SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne.

The capsule is now in orbit, while the Falcon 9 safely landed on one of the drone ships in the Atlantic.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX to Launch Crew Dragon Capsule to Space Station