The Crew Dragon capsule was launched on top of one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and contains 400lb of cargo, as well as a sophisticated crash dummy named Ripley, a reference to Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien franchise. The robot is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission", Anna Heiney wrote in a NASA blog.
Flight operations team members - some of them new to this - also need the six-day trial run, according to Kennedy Space Center's director, Robert Cabana.
The capsule is scheduled to reach the ISS by Sunday at around 11am with a return to Earth next Friday.
The Falcon rockets are famous for being self-landing and reusable, and once again the boosters managed to land themselves onto a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.
Boeing's Starliner capsule will be tested in April, at the earliest.
The space agency said in a statement last month that it has "confidence" the companies will be ready in 2019 and said the additional Soyuz contracts are meant to provide "flexibility and back-up" options.
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It pays Russian Federation to get its people up to the ISS orbiting research facility at a cost of $82 million per head for a round trip. SpaceX is now scheduled to fly its first mission with astronauts on board by July.
Needless to say, there's a lot riding on this demonstration and NASA is hoping that SpaceX knocked it out of the park. SpaceX needs to nail the debut of the capsule before putting people on board later this year.
Reuters reported on February 21 that SpaceX and Boeing both must address significant design and safety concerns before they can fly humans.
The capsule is now in orbit, while the Falcon 9 safely landed on one of the drone ships in the Atlantic. The agency's influence shapes various aspects of third-party planning, including design, safety, and funding, under its Commercial Crew Program.
In less than a decade, SpaceX has become a key partner for NASA, in addition to dominating the market for private satellite launches.
Dragon 2 will be the first SpaceX vehicle to attempt an autonomous docking in orbit.
"Man, we were all working so hard to get to the start of flying this new vehicle-it was super exhilarating", he said. Now a professor of human spaceflight at the University of Southern California, Reisman said the atmosphere was electric.