No one was aboard the Dragon capsule launched Saturday on its first test flight, only an instrumented dummy.
Dragon Hatch opened at 1307.
An estimated 5,000 NASA and contractor employees, tourists and journalists gathered in the wee hours at Kennedy Space Center with the SpaceX launch team, as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off before dawn from the same spot where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles once soared.
"Looking forward to meeting her in person in a couple days", Anne McClain, an astronaut on the International Space Station, tweeted in response to SpaceX founder Elon Musk's tweet of Ripley. The former astronaut said he was heartened to see that the new propulsion, communication, and other systems on Crew Dragon all were performing as expected so far, with the biggest tests yet to come with docking to the station, and reentry through Earth's atmosphere.
On Saturday, the Crew Dragon capsule was launched for the first time. Docking is scheduled for approximately 6:00 AM EST (11:00 UTC) on Sunday, March 3.
The three U.S., Canadian and Russian crew members aboard the space station watched the rendezvous via TV cameras.
Through next Friday, the Crew Dragon must meet a series of milestones.
"We're doing things that are really risky and the designs and the complexity of what we have to do. we're strapping human beings on top of rockets with millions of pounds of thrust and hurling them into orbit. that isn't trivial".
That the docking procedure went without error is not only a sigh of relief for NASA's Commercial Crew Program-the project to replace the retired Space Shuttle that is years behind schedule-but excellent news for the three astronauts now residing on the station.
"This is a critically important event in American history", Jim Bridenstine, the head of the USA space agency, told reporters, with the rocket and capsule visible behind him on the legendary launch pad where the Apollo missions to the Moon began.
The Crew Dragon's autonomous capability caused some concern among Russian space officials in advance of today's rendezvous. The astronauts wore oxygen masks and hoods until getting the all-clear.
"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of NASA's commercial crew programme. They rushed there from Florida after watching the Dragon rocket into orbit early Saturday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here".
After yesterday's launch, the Crew Dragon capsule with the Ripley manikin and the 400 kilograms of cargo officially arrived on the International Space Station. Instead of an actual human, the Crew Dragon carried a lifelike anthropomorphic test "device" lovingly called Ripley that had sensors to help determine the potential effects of the trip on actual humans. Shortly after the docking, Ripley was joined by the three astronauts now living on the ISS who donned precautionary oxygen masks to check the atmosphere aboard.