A rendering of the Crew Dragon approaching a docking port on the International Space Station. Courtesy SpaceX

The Crew Dragon capsule built by Los Angeles-based SpaceX was on its way to the International Space Station early Saturday following its launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Crew Dragon, an upgraded version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft that is used to carry cargo to the Space Station, launched at 11:49 p.m. California time Friday, propelled by a Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew Dragon mission is unmanned, testing the new ship’s capabilities and ability to self-dock at the space station.

Cargo-carrying Dragon capsules are usually captured by the space station’s robotic arms and brought into the docking bay. The Crew Dragon is designed to dock and un-dock on its own.

The “successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

“I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s space history. This first launch of a space system designed for humans built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

A manned spaceflight has not been launched on U.S. soil since 2011 with the final flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

The Crew Dragon launched Friday night is carrying a sensor-laden mannequin, outfitted in a SpaceX spacesuit, along with about 400 pounds of supplies and equipment. The spaceship is expected to arrive at the space station at about 12:30 a.m. California time on Sunday.

The ship will remain docked at the station until 11:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday, when it begins its journey back to Earth. It is expected to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean — slowed by four parachutes — about six hours later.

Assuming the test flight goes well, SpaceX is scheduled to actually launch astronauts into space for a short demonstration flight this summer, possibly in July. NASA has already chosen astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley for the historic mission.

Assuming there are no issues with that flight, two other astronauts — Victor Glover and Mike Hopkins — will later become the first humans carried by a Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.

The spacecraft is designed to carry up to seven astronauts to low earth orbit and beyond and is fully reusable.

— City News Service

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