Elon Musk, the CEO of US SpaceX aerospace company, said on Friday, after the launch of the SpaceX-manufactured Dragon 2 spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), that, of all the other stages of the mission, he was most of all anxious about Dragon 2's docking with the ISS and its return to Earth.
The dummy that will ride in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - has been nicknamed Ripley in honor of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of the capsule before putting people on board later this year. The next step is for Crew Dragon to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday and offload its cargo, before returning to Earth 5 days later.
Looking on from Kennedy's Launch Control were the two NASA astronauts who will strap in as early as July for the second space demo, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken. NASA hasn't launched humans to space since 2011, when the Space Shuttle program ended. SpaceX plans to recycle the newly flying capsule for a high-altitude abort test this spring, along with a booster launched and retrieved a week ago.
"And I think it'd be pretty cool if people went to space station on an American vehicle as well", Musk added.
While Saturday's SpaceX test mission is a crucial step in the oft-delayed project, there are questions about whether NASA can achieve its 2019 flight goal of manned flight.
A video grab from the Space X webcast transmission on March 2 showed a dummy named Ripley onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
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For SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment. While Falcon 9's have completed many successful lift-offs, today's was special because it is the first outing for SpaceX's new Crew Dragon module, created to take astronauts into orbit.
The booster for Boeing's capsule is a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket built in Decatur, Ala.
"We want to make sure we keep our partnership with Russian Federation, which has been very strong for a long period of time", explained Bridenstine before the flight. 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.
"We're going to learn a ton from this mission, " said NASA's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders.
At Saturday's post-launch news conference, Musk said he'd be happy to fly on the revamped Dragon. "And then re-entry", Musk said at a press conference, held in the Kennedy Space Center, when asked which stages of the Dragon 2 mission he anxious about most.