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SpaceX's Crew Dragon - the first crew-capable spacecraft the company has ever produced - is about to be tested in a big way.

NASA's commercial crew program is a plan to return to space on American rockets.

The SpaceX rocket launch marks the first time a commercially built spacecraft designed for human travel will dock with the International Space Station (ISS).

A little over 2 hours later, the space station's three crew members - American Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko - opened the hatch of the space capsule and, for the first time, penetrated its interior in space.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon can now check another milestone off its list.

SpaceX's successful launch drew notice from President Donald Trump on Saturday.

Though NASA and SpaceX were confident it would go seamlessly, it was a reminder that "there's always human life at risk", Patrick Forrester, chief of NASA's astronaut office at Johnson Space Center, said last week.

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.

While optimistic, NASA is hedging its bets and plans to buy two more Soyuz seats, one for use this fall and the other next spring, to ensure US astronauts will be aboard the space station through next year even if the commercial crew program runs into major problems and delays. Ripley is no mere dummy, but "an anthropomorphic test device outfitted with sensors to gather important data about what an astronaut flying aboard the spacecraft would experience throughout the mission", NASA says.

SpaceX UNMANNED Crew Dragon V2 launched - Falcon 9 rocket leaves Kennedy Space Center | Daily Star

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.

"We've got NASA "rocking" again".

Eleven minutes into the flight, the Dragon is let go and must make its own way to the station.

After another go/no-go poll, the SpaceX team in Hawthorne, California sent Dragon on its final approach to Waypoint 2, 20 meters from the docking port.

NASA has had to hitch rides with Russian space vehicles to get its astronauts to the space station since NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011, reportedly paying about $82 million a seat.

"We're going to have more access to space at a better cost than at any point in human history", said Bridenstine, adding he was "100 per cent confident" that a manned flight would happen by the year's end.

Next up, though, is Boeing, which is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August.

Next up, though, should be Boeing, NASA's other commercial crew provider.

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