A Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket, ready for launch, sits on pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. No, really: It's a sensor-equipped dummy (or "smartie", as SpaceX prefers to call it) named Ripley, in an homage to Sigourney Weaver's character from the Alien movies, when it truly should have been named Bishop after the on-board android.
Nasa plans to put two astronauts on board SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule by year end.
If all goes well with Crew Dragon's launch, the spacecraft will arrive at the International Space Station early Sunday (March 3) and spend five days docked at the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth on March 8.
When SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon capsule - without humans - for its first test mission, it will signify a major shift in the way NASA does business. Ripley is similar to Starman, which blasted off a year ago in the driver's seat of Musk's red Tesla convertible, on a test launch of the company's bigger Falcon Heavy rocket.
On Saturday, SpaceX will be sending it's first crew-ready capsule up to the International Space Station, a bold step in the direction of launching a manned mission into space for the private company.
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As it's the inaugural launch, NASA officials said they don't expect everything to go off without a hitch.
"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Nasa's commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders. Even though no one will be riding this rocket, Elon Musk's company has everything riding on the success of this mission.
Anne McClain, the American aboard the space station, says she's looking forward to saying hello.
"Today represents a new era in space flight" said Jim Bridenstine, head of the U.S. space agency who sees the launch as a step toward the privatization of low Earth orbit.
In its 17-year long existence, SpaceX has achieved a few feats that everyone thought were impossible, such as reusing rockets to save costs. SpaceX and Boeing are both in the final stages of testing the multi-billion dollar capsules NASA contracted them to build under its Commercial Crew program.
An estimated 5,000 Nasa and contractor employees, tourists and journalists gathered in the wee hours at Kennedy Space Centre with the SpaceX launch team, as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the same spot where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles once soared. Several items-parachutes and thrusters, among others-still need work and possibly redesign before certified for human use.