Gallery: 1st Crew Dragon takes flight

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket are positioned inside the company's hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida

Dragon 2, also known as Crew Dragon, embarked, atop the Falcon 9 rocket, on its first unmanned test mission to the ISS from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, at 2:49 a.m. EST (07:49 GMT) on Saturday.

That's the name of the space-suited dummy aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon that launched Saturday, a hat tip to Ellen Ripley, the heroine of the sci-fi movie series.

NASA's agreement with the Russian space program Roscomos is rapidly coming to an end, and without a new agreement in place or crew-capable spacecrafts of its own, NASA astronauts would have no presence aboard the orbiting laboratory. "We have to dock to the station".

Why it matters: For almost a decade, NASA has been reliant on Russian rockets to put their astronauts into orbit. It's gone through many iterations down the years and now has an extensive flight history.

With a successful orbit insertion, Crew Dragon is slated rendezvous with the ISS in the early-morning hours of March 3. The agency is working to return humans to the moon, but in a sustainable and cooperative fashion, rather than the go-it-alone, flags-and-footprints strategy of the Apollo era.

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.

Boeing is also developing a capsule to give NASA two ways to fly astronauts. "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".

Anne McClain, the American aboard the space station, says she's looking forward to saying hello. Musk said the redesigned capsule has "hardly a part in common" with its predecessor. Previous Dragon vehicles have been grabbed and hauled to the docking port by the station's robotic arm. Aboard Dragon is Ripley, a mannequin fitted with instruments to gather data during the flight, along with 181 kg of supplies and equipment.

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

The capsule is created to dock and undock automatically with the space station.

Bridenstine said he was "100 per cent confident" those flights would happen this year. Today, SpaceX launched a new Crew Dragon capsule to demonstrate their readiness for manned spaceflight.

If all goes smoothly, Crew Dragon could conduct a second test flight, with live crew, as soon as April. The first-stage booster used Saturday landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic, following liftoff.

California's SpaceX firm is performing a demonstration of a new rocket and capsule system, which, if it works well, will be approved to carry people. "That would be pretty cool, " he said.

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