Milestone: Capsule with dummy aboard docks at space station

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SpaceX celebrated the successful launch on Saturday 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 U.S. soil after an eight-year break.

The successful flight is paving the way for two astronauts to be sent into orbit this summer as part of NASA's commercial crew programme, based in California.

Enlarge / SpaceX founder Elon Musk shares a laugh with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, center, and Bob Behnken, in the launch control room at Kennedy Space Center Friday night.

SpaceX's new Dragon capsule successfully docked on the International Space Station on Sunday, NASA and SpaceX confirmed during a live broadcast of the mission.

SpaceX, along with Boeing, was awarded a contract to fly United States astronauts to the space station by NASA back in 2014.

This morning, I monitored the first time ever approach and automated docking of Crew #Dragon to the ISS.

The dummy pilot is a mannequin nicknamed "Ripley" after Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien films.

It launched on Saturday 1 March and will stay attached to the ISS docking station until 8 March, when it will detach and return to earth.

"Welcome to the new era in spaceflight", he said.

Astronaut David Saint-Jacques and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko swung open the hatch and entered the capsule at 7:07 a.m. Houston time, where NASA employees watched. After reaching the 400-meter point, Dragon was set to move in front of the station, 150 meters away - before automatically docking at 1100 GMT.

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.

As a result, NASA and SpaceX modified the mission design to constrain the thermal environment and ensure the thrusters would be ready for flight. The Crew Dragon will remain docked to the ISS for up to 210 days, though no word has yet been given on what is planned for it afterward. 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.

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

Boeing said it expects to test-fly its Starliner capsule next month, with astronauts on board possibly in August. Space travel is still a costly endeavor, but these capsules were developed in partnership with NASA and the price of a seat is about $30 million cheaper.

The Falcon rocket is the same vehicle the company uses to loft cargo to the International Space Station and to put satellites in orbit.

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