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A rocket that will bring US astronauts back to space has blasted off with a dummy named 'Ripley'

The launch is a key step towards resuming manned space flights from US soil.

Image: Terry Renna

NASA AND SPACEX today celebrated the successful launch of a new astronaut capsule on a week-long round trip to the International Space Station – a key step towards resuming manned space flights from US soil after an eight-year break.

This time around, the only occupant on board SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule was a dummy named Ripley – but NASA plans to put two astronauts aboard later this year.

The new capsule blasted off aboard the Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX – run by billionaire Elon Musk — at 2.49 am (07.49 am Irish time) from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, lighting up the coastline.

Eleven minutes later, the confirmation came from SpaceX mission control:

“Dragon separation confirmed.”

That triggered cheers at the firm’s headquarters and at the Kennedy Space Center.

The capsule is scheduled to reach the ISS by tomorrow at around 11 am Irish time, with a return to Earth next Friday.

It will splash down in the Atlantic Ocean, from where it will be brought back to Cape Canaveral.

In another success, the rocket’s first stage returned to Earth, landing on a platform 500 kilometres off the Florida coast in the Atlantic. It marks the 35th such recovery by SpaceX.

NASA had announced weather conditions were good ahead of the launch, with an 80% chance of favourable weather.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk, who founded the company in 2002, was at the space centre for the occasion.

Shuttered

After the shuttle program was shuttered in July 2011 following a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions.

It pays Russia to get its people up to the ISS orbiting research facility at a cost of $82 million (€72 million) per head for a round trip.

In 2014, the US space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task.

But the program has suffered delays as safety requirements are much more stringent for manned flights than for unmanned missions to deploy satellites.

Boeing next

Boeing also received a contract in 2014 to develop a space vessel, the Starliner. It will not be tested until April, in a mission similar to SpaceX’s.

NASA did not want to rely on just one single vehicle, in case of accidents.

“We’re going to be a customer,” Bridenstine told reporters.

Planning has been delayed by around three years, with the first manned SpaceX flight still penciled in for July, though officials frequently refer to the end of 2019 as a more realistic deadline.

© – AFP 2019 

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