Dragon roars: SpaceX's first crew test flight goes well so far

Space X capsule demo flights lifts off

SpaceX rocket launches towards the International Space Station

The dummy in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - is fitted with monitors to test the forces to which future astronauts will be subjected on take-off and when they return to the Earth's atmosphere and then splash down in the Atlantic, slowed down by giant parachutes. SpaceX has just tweeted the capsule is metres away from its destination.

Kirk Shireman, the manager of Nasa's International Space Station programme, said: "You'll hear us talk about this being a flight test; it absolutely is".

The crew members opened the hatch to Crew Dragon following standard leak checks and pressurization since the spacecraft completed its hard dock to the station at 6:02 a.m., the first autonomous docking of any USA spacecraft to the International Space Station.

The Crew Dragon used the station's new global docking adapter for the first time since astronauts installed it during a spacewalk in August 2016, following its delivery to the station in the trunk of a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on its ninth commercial resupply services mission. The Crew Dragon capsule docked with the ISS on Sunday.

BRIDENSTINE: We have another five days before the Dragon releases from the International Space Station and comes home safely.

"Everything looks great", USA astronaut Anne McClain, who oversaw events from the station's big bay window, or Cupola.told Mission Control after looking inside Crew Dragon through a hatch window just before the crew entered.

Crew Dragon is occupied by a single dummy named Ripley - named after the protagonist of 1979 science fiction horror film Alien.

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Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, who will be the first human crew on the Dragon, sent commands from their base in California to position the vehicle before it made its final approach to the ISS.

Following the retirement of American shuttles, NASA paid companies such as SpaceX and Boeing about $8 billion to build and operate crew capsules to carry astronauts to and from the space station.

The Falcon rocket is the same vehicle the company uses to loft cargo to the International Space Station and to put satellites in orbit. Within hours, the capsule's hatch swung open and the three astronauts floated inside to remove supplies and take air samples, wearing oxygen masks and hoods until they got the all-clear.

Next up, though, should be Boeing, NASA's other commercial crew provider.

"Early on, our goal was human space flight", he said.

"We're looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial market place in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that historically have not been possible". Russian Soyuz seats go for up to $82 million apiece.

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