Gallery: 1st Crew Dragon takes flight

Michele Stevens
March 4, 2019

The Space X Crew Dragon capsule lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket early Saturday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

The new capsule blasted off aboard the Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX - run by billionaire Elon Musk - at 2:49 am (0749 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, lighting up the coastline.

- Jason Davis (@jasonrdavis) March 3, 2019The first @Commercial_Crew mission arrived at the space station today when the @SpaceX #CrewDragon completed soft capture on the Harmony module at 5:51am ET. Getting those spacecraft flying would mark the restoration of a US crew-launching capability that was lost when the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. Docking occurred at 05:51 EST (10:51 UTC), and the crew officially opened Dragon's interior hatch at 08:07 EST (13:07 UTC).

The crew on the ISS, which includes Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, will spend the next five days unloading 400 pounds of cargo off Crew Dragon and performing other procedures.

SpaceX and Boeing are both building crew ferry ships in an $8 billion push by NASA to restore America's ability to launch USA and partner astronauts to space in the wake of the space shuttle's retirement in 2011.

"Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking", Anne McClain, the NASA astronaut now on the station, said shortly after the spacecraft docked.

"This is a critically important event in American history", Jim Bridenstine, the head of the United States space agency, told reporters, with the rocket and capsule visible behind him on the legendary launch pad where the Apollo missions to the Moon began. The dates of the start of flights by both companies were repeatedly postponed.

If the six-day demo goes well, SpaceX could launch two astronauts this summer under NASA's commercial crew programme.

This view from a camera inside the Crew Dragon capsule shows what astronauts will see during approach to the space station. "We've got NASA "rocking" again," the president wrote.

The Demo-1 mission marks the first flight of the new and improved Dragon 2 spacecraft, which is longer and more massive than its Dragon 1 predecessor.

Before lift-off, Musk tweeted a photo of the inside of the Crew Dragon capsule with the Ripley mannequin strapped in it.

Cargo versions of the Dragon have flown to the station 16 times since 2012, but the Crew Dragon represents a significant upgrade.

"We instrumented the crap out of that vehicle", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of NASA's Commercial Crew program.

The companies can still launch people this year - but things will have to go smoothly. McClain called back to the early milestones in space exploration, including the first human to reach outer space - Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin - and the 1969 moon landing by American spaceflight Apollo 11.

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