Dragon capsule heads for space station

Muriel Hammond
March 4, 2019

A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule blasted off on Saturday for the International Space Station, in a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from USA soil later this year.

The spacecraft is created to carry up to seven passengers to the space station, but for this flight, the capsule is loaded up with 450 pounds of cargo and a test dummy outfitted in one of SpaceX's customised spacesuits.

This beefed-up, redesigned Dragon is the first American-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to pull up to the station in eight years.

Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts chosen for the future first manned flight, said: "We will be ready when SpaceX and Nasa are ready for us to fly".

The Boeing and SpaceX launch systems are aimed at ending United States 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.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon began its inaugural test flight early Saturday morning.

"Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking", astronaut Anne McClain radioed from the space station a few minutes later.


Spectacular video from the station showed the sleek capsule, its nose cone hinged open to reveal its docking mechanism, moving in slowly against the deep black of space.

He marvels at how the Dragon has just 30 buttons and touch screens, compared with the space shuttle cockpit's 2,000 switches and circuit breakers.

Meanwhile, NASA has paid Russian Federation about $80 million per seat to send USA astronauts to space aboard Soyuz rockets - a fact that isn't very popular in the halls of Congress.

For employees of SpaceX-who have worked to bring Crew Dragon to fruition for most of the last decade-Saturday morning's launch proved cathartic.

"We've got NASA "rocking" again". It docked autonomously, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for help. The capsule will remain at the ISS for another five days. The Starliner is now due to make its first uncrewed test flight no earlier than April, and its first crewed flight no earlier than August. Her name is Ripley, a tongue-in-cheek, Muskian reference to the protagonist of the Alien films. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat. The US space agency has been paying Russian Federation roughly $81 million for a single seat on the Soyuz spaceship every time it needs to ferry an astronaut to or from the ISS.

This includes demonstrating the on-orbit operation of avionics, communications, telemetry, life support, electrical, and propulsion systems, as well as the guidance, navigation, control (GNC) systems aboard both Falcon 9 and Dragon.

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

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