SpaceX, a commercial company founded by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind the Tesla electric auto, launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft early yesterday, lifting off on the company's Falcon 9 rocket from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
NASA TV coverage of rendezvous and docking began at 03:30 EST (08:30 UTC), in the middle of the night here in the US, with Dragon roughly 2.5 kilometers behind and 7.5 kilometers above the ISS. The Crew Dragon includes a new emergency escape system, first tested in 2015, that's created to carry astronauts to safety if there's an emergency.
A veteran of two spaceflights, Garrett Reisman left NASA in 2011 to play a senior role in the development of the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX until previous year.
Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission took place at 2:49 a.m. EST (07:49 GMT).
Crew Dragon will dock to the forward port of the space station's Harmony module, which has been fitted with an International Docking Adaptor (IDA).
It's expected to touch down in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere off the coast of Florida near Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.
This week, NASA and SpaceX revealed that Crew Dragon had met all the requirements and been cleared for its test flight to the International Space Station this weekend. The US space shuttle program ended in 2011, and NASA has paid Russian Federation about $80 million per seat to send American astronauts to space aboard Soyuz rockets.
Boeing is also developing a capsule to give NASA two ways to fly astronauts.
"Human space flight is a core value of business of SpaceX".
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.
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.
Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule is tentatively scheduled for an unpiloted test flight at the end of April, followed by the company's first piloted launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket in August or September. The only passenger is Ripley, a female mannequin whose name is a nod to the character in the popular Alien movies.
"We're going to learn a ton from this mission, " said NASA's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders. SpaceX launched the dummy and the Earth Celestial Buddies plush toy on Crew Dragon Saturday.
After the shuttle programme ended in July 2011 following a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions.
The Falcon 9 rocket booster landed on a droneship in the Atlantic at about 3 a.m. Saturday, SpaceX said, making it the 35th successful landing of one of the company's rocket boosters.