SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launches successfully

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft took off on Saturday morning, marking the first major step toward US ambitions to resume sending astronauts into space in its own spacecraft from American soil.

The uncrewed spacecraft launched as planned from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 2.49am local time (07.49 GMT), on top of a Falcon 9 rocket and carrying a dummy pilot called Ripley – a nod to Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien movies.

The flight will provide SpaceX and Nasa with vital data to determine whether the spacecraft is ready to carry passengers.

Nasa ended its space shuttle programme in 2011, opting instead to work with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Boeing on a commercial crew programme.

It has since relied on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to take astronauts into space, which costs $81m a seat (£61m).

Crew Dragon’s lift-off has been hit by several delays. . “This is really a significant achievement in the history of American space flight,” said Nasa’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine.

“We want to make sure we keep our partnership with Russia, which has been very strong for a long period of time, going back to the Apollo Soyuz era, but we also want to make sure we have our own capability to get back and forth to the International Space Station, so that we can have this strong partnership where they can launch on our rockets and we can launch on their rockets.

“But I think another big milestone here is the idea that we’re not as an agency, as Nasa, we’re not purchasing, owning and operating our own rockets at this point, we’re looking to a future where we can be a customer, one customer of many customers in a very robust commercial marketplace in lower Earth orbit.”

The crew capsule is expected to reach the ISS at 6.05am (11.05 GMT) on Sunday, delivering around 400 pounds of cargo and staying for around five days before returning to Earth.

A trial carrying passengers for the first time could happen as soon as July. The astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have been lined up for the flight.


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