Live coverage of the SpaceX launch (Elon Musk)
SpaceX Crew Dragon recap https://t.co/MmQmctxRSoElon Musk (@elonmusk) March 2, 2019
"This is a critically important event in American history," the head of the US space agency, Jim Bridenstine, said at the launch on Friday.
The Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX launched at 08h49 (Universal Time).
Kennedy Space Center announced 11 minutes later that the rocket propelled the capsule into space.
The capsule is scheduled to take a turn around the International Space Station (ISS) for one week it should reach ISS by Sunday 12h00 UT, and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean next Friday.
"We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011," said Bridenstine.
NASA said that the weather conditions were favourable for the launch.
At the Mission Control room
The team in the @Space_Station Mission Control room monitors closely as the @SpaceX #CrewDragon launches for its first flight - a huge step towards launching @NASA_Astronauts from the U.S. to the station. pic.twitter.com/0WZr8gaonCJohnson Space Center (@NASA_Johnson) March 2, 2019
First space flight from US in eight years
"It's been a long eight years," the Kennedy Space Center's director Bob Cabana. The shuttle program closed down in 2011, and NASA outsourced its logistics of space missions to Russia.
In an effort not to rely on just one company because of accidents, NASA gave logistics contracts to both SpaceX and Boeing in 2014, but strict safety requirements for manned spacecraft have created delays in the operation.
Boeing has also been developing its Starliner space vessel, which is slated to test run in April.
The launch of the SpaceX craft captured by smartphones
LIVE NOW: Hear from @SpaceX and @Commercial_Crew mission experts about today's launch of @SpaceX's #CrewDragon spacecraft, which is now on its way to the @Space_Station. Watch: https://t.co/uH6umqz1nX pic.twitter.com/dt5fTEkqY0NASA (@NASA) March 2, 2019
Ripley, a dummy to be replaced by astronauts
This flight on Saturday will test the safety conditions for humans. Ripley, the dummy in the capsule, has been rigged with monitors to test how a body would react to takeoff and landings in the ocean. He was named after the character in the “Alien” movies played by Sigourney Weaver.
"Early on, our goal was human spaceflight," he said. "Human spaceflight is a core value of business of SpaceX," said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president for build and flight reliability.
The firm’s owner, Elon Musk, was also on hand to watch the lift off from Kennedy Space Center.
"We're going to have more access to space at a better cost than at any point in human history," said NASA’s Bridenstine, adding he was "100 percent confident" that a manned flight would happen by year's end.
Launch in July after three-year delay?
Although delays had set the programme back three years, SpaceX says it is working towards a July manned launch, although NASA officials are much more cautious, suggesting a date by the end of the year.
"Right now, the date is July and that's what we're planning for, but if we change that date we'll make sure people know when it's the right time," said Bridenstine.
Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts chosen for the future first manned flight, added that when both NASA and SpaceX are ready, he will be too.
SpaceX celebrated another success on Saturday after the rocket’s first stage touched down in the Atlantic, on a platform some 500 kilometres off the Florida coast. It is the 35th recovery by SpaceX.