SpaceX launches trial astronaut taxi service to space station

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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.

Dragon will remain at the space station until Friday, when it will undock for an old-school, "Right Stuff"-style splashdown in the Atlantic, a few hundred miles off Florida".

Humans have entered SpaceX's Crew Dragon while in orbit for the first time, just hours after the commercial spacecraft docked at the International Space Station on Sunday morning.

Once the capsule docked, the three-person crew aboard the ISS - all of whom were prepared to evacuate during the docking procedure if something went wrong - opened it up to greet Ripley, the sensor-laden dummy that flew in alongside 400 pounds of supplies and a plush Earth doll.

The Falcon rocket is the same vehicle the company uses to loft cargo to the International Space Station and to put satellites in orbit.

Launch is much like any other SpaceX mission.

The launch is a milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from U.S. territory later this year.

Ripley - nicknamed in honor of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies - is fitted with monitors to test the forces that future astronauts will be subjected to on takeoff and when they return to the Earth's atmosphere and then land in the Atlantic, braked by giant parachutes.

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"I know you heard the applause and all the clapping that went along with the accomplishment today and so it's just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here".

Both companies have received billions of dollars from NASA to develop spacecraft capable of transporting astronauts safely to and from the station.

Behnken said that's the way it should work when he and Hurley are on board; they may push a button or two and will have the ability to intervene, if necessary.

The announcement was met with applause at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

NASA's agreement with the Russian space program Roscomos is rapidly coming to an end, and without a new agreement in place or crew-capable spacecrafts of its own, NASA astronauts would have no presence aboard the orbiting laboratory.

After the shuttle program was shut down in July 2011 following a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions. Russian Soyuz seats go for up to $82 million apiece. That includes interior life-support systems, autonomous docking capability, an integrated launch escape system, and solar panels built into the spacecraft itself. Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule could undergo its first uncrewed test flight in April.

"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew programme.

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