A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule has successfully blasted off from a launch pad in the USA state of Florida bound for the International Space Station. But that quickly changed once the hatch swung open and the space station astronauts floated inside.
If Demo-1 is successful, then there will be one last test of the Dragon Crew's in-flight abort system in another few weeks, after which SpaceX and NASA Commercial Crew hope to have Demo-2, the first anticipated manned space flight to launch from U.S. soil since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, ready to launch by July.
SpaceX's 16-foot-tall (4.9 meter) Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at TK 2:49 a.m. (0749 GMT), carrying a test dummy nicknamed Ripley. This latest, flashiest Dragon is on a fast track to reach the space station Sunday morning, just 27 hours after liftoff.
Cargo versions of the Dragon have flown to the station 16 times since 2012, but the Crew Dragon represents a significant upgrade. It was also the first time that the space station tested the worldwide docking adapter that was installed in 2016.
Saint-Jacques and Kononenko were the first to enter the Crew Dragon after opening the hatch.
NASA also sent more than 400 pounds of crew supplies and equipment to the space station, including bulk overwrap bags containing more than 1,000 food and drink packages for the crew.
Ten minutes after a picture flawless launch, the SpaceX rocket's first stage successfully touched down on a recovery ship 300 miles off the Florida coast.
This beefed-up, redesigned Dragon is the first American-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to pull up to the station in eight years.
"This is a critically important event in American history", the head of the United States space agency, Jim Bridenstine, told reporters on Friday, with the rocket and capsule visible behind him on the legendary launch pad where the Apollo missions to the Moon began.
During the rendezvous, Dragon went through numerous milestones, first coming into view at around 3,000 meters out, before approaching towards the Approach Elipsode and arrive at Waypoint 0. The astronauts wore oxygen masks and hoods until getting the all-clear.
The two will be joined by NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch for the launch aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan, NASA said.
Either SpaceX or Boeing will have bragging rights as the first private company to launch humans into space on its own rocket, although plans call for rockets built by both companies to carry astronauts into space. He was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida when the crewless vessel launched yesterday morning.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk said the launch was "super stressful" to watch, but he's hopeful the capsule will be ready to carry people later this year.