Nasa could return to launching American astronauts from US soil as early as the spring now that the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule has completed a high-altitude abort test.
The successful test took place on 19 January, when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center at 1030 EST (1530 GMT).
About one and a half minutes into the flight, mission operators simulated an emergency onboard and the Crew Dragon capsule separated from the rocket and accelerated to safety.
As it did so, the Falcon 9 disintegrated in midair. The capsule parachuted back to Earth, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean at 1038 EST.
The Nasa administrator, Jim Bridenstine, told the press conference afterwards that Crew Dragon had passed “another amazing milestone” and that more tests would happen before it could carry astronauts. These final tests include parachute tests.
The Nasa astronaut Doug Hurley described it as “the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use, but can save lives if we ever do”.
Nasa has been buying seats on Russian Soyuz launches to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.