SpaceX rocket with unmanned USA capsule blasts off for space station

This image courtesy of SpaceX and obtained from NASA shows the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft rolled out to Launch Complex 39A at NASA Kennedy Space

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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.

The rocket blasted off without incident at 2:49 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, lighting up Florida's coastline.

You can watch SpaceX's Crew Dragon launch on, courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT). Boeing has similar uncrewed and crewed test flights planned for April and August, respectively.

It is scheduled to reach the ISS by Sunday, with a return to Earth next Friday.

No one is onboard the craft for the test flight with the exception of a test dummy named Ripley.

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"This is really kind of coming to fruition, and I think for the most part everybody's excited about it [and] recognizes this is the right way to go", he says.

But when SpaceX and Boeing's spacecraft do start carrying real passengers - not test dummies - the price for a ride into space will fall considerably, to around $58 million per seat, NASA said. Moments later the Crew Dragon completely separated from the rocket and began making its own way to the ISS.

Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39A, used a half-century ago for Apollo moon shots and later space shuttle flights, has been remodeled and gussied up by tenant SpaceX.

Nasa will be scrutinising data from the test, in hopes of awarding SpaceX with certification to carry a crew.

"This mission absolutely meets that standard with a creative and cost-effective mission to solve mysteries about Earth's upper atmosphere", said Paul Hertz, NASA's Director of Astrophysics.

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The Crew Dragon features solar arrays affixed to the side of the spacecraft's trunk, a launch escape system that will allow crew members to escape an anomaly at any point during flight, a large hatch and windows and a redesigned outer mold line to enhance crew comfort.

"This flight test will inform the system design, operations and drive any changes that need to be made ahead of crew flights".

"Every mission is important, but this is even more important", said Koenigsmann, the firm's vice-president for build and flight reliability. "Where risk has been retired and markets develop, we want to be a customer".

No American astronaut has blasted off from USA soil for a space mission since July 2011, when the Atlantis, the last mission of Nasa's Space Shuttle programme, returned to Earth. "Early on, our goal was human spaceflight", he said.

NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station.

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