SpaceX, NASA successfully launch Crew Dragon on historic test flight

LIFT OFF California's SpaceX firm has carried out a demonstration of a new rocket

Now NASA said it is on the verge of recapturing some of the national pride that has been a hallmark of its human spaceflight program since the beginning of the Space Age.

"We're only partway through the mission", Musk said.

He added: "We are looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial marketplace in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that, historically, have not been possible".

For SpaceX, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment.

Both SpaceX's Crew Dragon and Boeing's Starliner were supposed to conduct their first test flights last August. Although the Dragon capsule itself is created to carry a crew of up to seven astronauts skyward, the one that launched on Saturday - Demo-1 is its designation - is more of a test run: it's carrying a few hundred pounds of cargo, plus a sensor-filled dummy named "Ripley". Provided this demo mission proceeds as planned, the Crew Dragon will have to demonstrate its safety in one more "in-flight abort test", scheduled for later this year.

Nasa and SpaceX celebrated the successful launch on Saturday of a new astronaut capsule on a week-long round trip to the International Space Station - a key step towards resuming manned space flights from United States soil after an eight-year break. But he stressed it was more important to move deliberately so "we get it right".

The companies can still launch people this year - but things will have to go smoothly. "And we'll be ready when SpaceX and NASA are ready for us to fly it".

"It's been a long eight years", said Bob Cabana, the Kennedy Space Center's director and a former astronaut.

Dragon 2 is a reusable spacecraft designed as a successor to the Dragon space freighter. Previous Dragon vehicles have been grabbed and hauled to the docking port by the station's robotic arm. Critics objected to budget cuts to NASA as well as concerns about whether the private sector would be able to follow through on providing launch services.

Boeing also has a contract with NASA for manned space capsules.

Still, there are three astronauts on board the station - NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenk - so the pressure is on to make sure the spacecraft does not pose a threat to the station as it approaches. It will remain docked there for about two weeks. Then it would disembark and fly back to Earth, where it would fall through the atmosphere, a big test for the spacecraft's heat shield and parachute system. If all goes according to plan, Starship and Super Heavy will launch a Japanese billionaire and numerous other passengers on a round-the-moon mission in 2023, and perhaps send the first people toward Mars a few years later.

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