SpaceX's first crew test flight goes well so far — Dragon roars

Ignacio Smith
March 4, 2019

By then, the Crew Dragon was already orbiting earth at five miles per second and headed for a docking with the global space station Sunday morning.

The spacecraft attached to ISS via "soft capture" at 5:51 a.m.

SpaceX's new Crew Dragon astronaut capsule was on its way to the International Space Station Saturday after it successfully launched from Florida on board a Falcon 9 rocket.

The linkup came 27 hours after the Crew Dragon's launch early Saturday from the Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The entire procedure was light on showmanship compared to SpaceX's last major flight test, when the company launched a red Tesla into space on its Falcon Heavy rocket. It's a first for a commercially built & operated spacecraft designed for crew! Once they determined that the air inside the Crew Dragon was safe, they swung the door open and allowed it to mix with the air inside the space station.

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The Crew Dragon is scheduled to remain docked for five days before returning to Earth on March 8.

"Today's successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American Astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet.

"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. Astronauts in the USA have been relying on Russian Soyuz rockets since NASA's fleet was retired in 2011, but those seats are costly.

"Every mission is important, but this is even more important, said Koenigsmann, the firm's vice-president for build and flight reliability".

The current schedule calls for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to take their seats on the next Crew Dragon demonstration flight in July.

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A concern over Dragon's docking abort procedures was raised by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, one of NASA's global partners in the ISS program. "Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here".

The launch comes nine years after NASA invested about £38million ($50million) into its Commercial Crew Program.

Along with a sensor-packed dummy astronaut named Ripley, the Crew Dragon brought along a Celestial Buddies Earth plush to serve as a "zero-g indicator" and more than 400 lbs.

Cargo versions of the Dragon have flown to the station 16 times since 2012, but the Crew Dragon represents a significant upgrade. Currently, the space agency and its astronauts rely on Russian rockets and crew capsules to ferry Americans to and from ISS - an agreement with Roscosmos that ends in early 2020.

Kirk Shireman, manager of Nasa's International Space Station programme, said: "You'll hear us talk about this being a flight test; it absolutely is".

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