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SpaceX launches Crew Dragon capsule to the space station in milestone test for NASA astronauts

Key Points
  • SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon capsule into space for the first time, in a key test flight to prove to NASA that astronauts will be safe on future flights.
  • Called Demo-1, the launch was key to showing NASA that astronauts will be safe on future flights.
  • Crew Dragon is slated to autonomously dock to the International Space Station at approximately 6:00 a.m. EST on March 3.
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard takes off during the Demo-1 mission at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

Elon Musk's dream for human spaceflight took a stellar leap forward in the early hours of Saturday morning.

SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon capsule into space for the first time, in a key test flight to prove to NASA that astronauts will be safe on future flights.

Called Demo-1, the mission launched from NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida on top of a Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA tweeted soon after the launch: "LIFTOFF! The next big leap in a new chapter of U.S. human spaceflight systems has left the pad."

While there were no humans on board, there was a dummy named Ripley that flew on the mission. Ripley, named after the main character in the 1979 movie "Alien," is equipped with sensors that give SpaceX engineers an idea of what the journey to and from the International Space Station (ISS) is like.

It was the first of two test flights for SpaceX under NASA's Commercial Crew program. Demo-2, the first crewed flight, is scheduled for July. According to NASA's schedule, SpaceX is set to become the first to launch American astronauts from U.S. soil since 2011.

"Today's 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 in a statement following the launch.

"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."

Crew Dragon is slated to autonomously dock to the ISS at approximately 6:00 a.m. EST on March 3. It is carrying about 400 pounds supplies and equipment to the space station.

After the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, NASA partnered with the private sector to develop the future of human spaceflight. Currently, SpaceX and Boeing have NASA contracts worth up to $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion, respectively.