SpaceX Crew Dragon, Built to Carry Humans, Launches Demo Flight

Muriel Hammond
March 3, 2019

It is fitted with monitors to test the forces that future astronauts will be subjected to on takeoff and when they return to the Earth's atmosphere and then splash down in the Atlantic, slowed down by giant parachutes.

"I'm a little emotionally exhausted, because that was super stressful but it worked, so far", Musk told a late-night press conference an hour later.

While Saturday's SpaceX test mission is a crucial step in the oft-delayed project, there are questions about whether NASA can achieve its 2019 flight goal of manned flight. No private company has ever launched humans into orbit, and during a webcast of the launch, SpaceX employees could be seen packed into the main foyer of the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., cheering each milestone. "Right now, the date is July and that's what we're planning for, but if we change that date we'll make sure people know when it's the right time".

They both nodded. "Seeing a success like this, that really gives us a lot confidence in the future", said one of them, Bob Behnken. In 2014, as part of the "commercial crew" program, the agency awarded contracts worth a combined $6.8 billion to SpaceX and Boeing to develop spacecraft capable of flying up to four astronauts to the station at a time.

Reuters reported on February 21 that SpaceX and Boeing both must address significant design and safety concerns before they can fly humans.

The dummy that will ride in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - has been nicknamed Ripley in honor of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies.


Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has been unable to fly people to space and has been forced to rely on Russian Federation to ferry its astronauts to the space station, the orbiting laboratory about 250 miles above the Earth. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of the capsule before putting people on board later this year.

"We're going to take it day by day", Bridenstine said of the timeline. The next step is for Crew Dragon to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday and offload its cargo, before returning to Earth 5 days later.

Dragon 2 is a reusable spacecraft designed as a successor to the Dragon space freighter.

The capsule successfully separated from the rocket about 11 minutes later, sparking cheers in the control room, and began its journey to the space station. In this case, the spacecraft will fly on to the space station and attach itself.

Early on Friday, Musk, who is also chief executive officer of electric carmaker Tesla Inc, tweeted a photo of the inside of Crew Dragon capsule with Ripley strapped inside.

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