Ripley the Dummy Astronaut Ready for Liftoff Onboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon

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"We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011", said Bridenstine, who got a special tour of the launch pad on the eve of launch, by Musk. No, really: It's a sensor-equipped dummy (or "smartie", as SpaceX prefers to call it) named Ripley, in an homage to Sigourney Weaver's character from the Alien movies, when it truly should have been named Bishop after the on-board android.

SpaceX closes in on human spaceflight with this weekend's debut of a new capsule designed for astronauts.

The Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE) mission will cost Dollars 42 million and is planned to launch in August 2022, attached to the exterior of the Earth-orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

No American astronaut has blasted off from U.S. soil for a space mission since July 2011, when the Atlantis, the last mission of Nasa's Space Shuttle programme, returned to Earth. It will not be tested until April, in a mission similar to SpaceX's.

Elon Musk's SpaceX was due to launch an unmanned crew capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket early on Saturday bound for the International Space Station, a major step toward NASA's goal of reviving the US human spaceflight program this year.

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The new experiment will, for the first time, obtain global observations of an important driver of space weather in a dynamic region of Earth's upper atmosphere that can cause interference with radio and GPS communications, NASA said in a statement.

"Actually having a reentry, with Ripley in the seat, in the position, is critical", said Kathy Lueders, manager for NASA's Commercial Crew Program, during a pre-flight media conference. Now, Elon Musk's SpaceX is readying for the test of a lifetime with the test launch of its new crew capsule. From there, the astronauts on board the space station will take over the receiving process.

The manned spacecraft will be launched by a Falcon-9 rocket developed by SpaceX.

For SpaceX, this flight is a key milestone in its 17-year history. SpaceX is shooting for a July crew launch, but that could slip depending on the results of the upcoming demo and a launch abort test this spring. The white crew Dragon is slightly bigger - 8 metres tip to tip - and considerably fancier and safer.

"The International Space Station is now complete, so we don't have the requirement to put as much mass into low-Earth orbit as we used to", he said. Some of the equipment needs more work - possibly even redesign - before serving human passengers. At the end of the Space Shuttle Program, NASA was no longer capable of flying its own astronauts to space and the station relies on Roscosmos and the Russian Soyuz. Hurley will ride the Dragon and Ferguson the Starliner.

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