A SpaceX rocket lit up the sky early Saturday morning as it launched a capsule on its way to the International Space Station, bringing the United States one step closer to resuming manned space flight.
The Crew Dragon space capsule, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, is unmanned but it carries an astronaut test dummy named Ripley that is outfitted with numerous sensors to collect data from the flight. In addition, it is transporting about 400 pounds of supplies for the space station.
“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. “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.”
The plan calls for the capsule to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday morning. It will remain docked until Friday, when it will disengage and head for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean 230 miles east of Cape Canaveral.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk was on hand for the launch.
The United States halted its manned spacecraft program in 2011 and since then U.S. astronauts have relied on Russian spacecraft to get back and forth to the Space Station.
Boeing also has a contract with NASA for manned space capsules. Both Boeing and SpaceX are hoping to have a manned flight later this year.
The launch comes after reports in January that SpaceX was cutting 10 percent of its staff.