The SpaceX rocket launch marks the first time a commercially built spacecraft designed for human travel will dock with the International Space Station (ISS). Scores of space tourists gathered in Florida to watch the 2:49 a.m. launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, which went off without a hitch.
It is expected to reach the ISS later on Sunday.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the unmanned Crew Dragon capsule on its nose sits at Kennedy Space Center.
By then, the Crew Dragon was already orbiting earth at five miles per second and headed for a docking with the worldwide space station Sunday morning.
If the programme continues to go to plan, SpaceX and NASA plan to send humans back into space from the U.S. later this year.
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The mission is a test launch with only a dummy on board the capsule ahead of a manned flight scheduled for later this year.
If all goes well, the completion of the test mission will instill confidence in NASA, SpaceX and even the astronauts slated to go on the first crewed mission - the first from USA soil in eight years - that Elon Musk's SpaceX can perform the task.
Chris Ferguson, commander of the final shuttle flight and now a Boeing executive, will join two other NASA astronauts aboard the Starliner for the company's first piloted launch this fall.
"Human space flight is a core value of business of SpaceX".
If all goes well, SpaceX's first crewed mission, which will fly NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, could happen by July, according to NASA's most recent schedule.
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"They wanted us to take some steps where we would protect the space station, close another hatch or two, and have the crew ready to go in the Soyuz", said NASA's deputy ISS manager Joel Montalbano, referring to the Soyuz crew capsule that would allow cosmonauts to make an emergency exit if things went haywire.
Ever since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the USA has been hitching rides to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Her name is Ripley, a tongue-in-cheek, Muskian reference to the protagonist of the Alien films.
The new space vehicle, carrying only cargo and a human dummy, launched Saturday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Since then, NASA has been relying on Russian rockets and space capsules to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station, for a reported cost of $80m per journey. Both companies are focused on test missions, including abort system demonstrations and crew flight tests, ahead of regularly flying crew missions to the space station.
The Boeing and SpaceX launch systems are aimed at ending United States reliance on Russian rockets for rides to the $100 billion orbital research laboratory, which flies about 250 miles (402 km) above Earth, at about $80 million per ticket.
Heavy downpours and even snow expected as yellow weather warning in place
Much of the snowfall is expected to be in areas above 300m, but a dusting of snow is also forecast for lower lying areas. There is also the risk of potential travel disruption, power cuts and dangerously large waves along the coast.
The first stage finished its job and separated about 2.5 minutes later before preparing to land on a drone ship downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.