Elon Musk’s Space X on Saturday took a giant leap forward in its quest to resume human space flight from US soil, launching a rocket with an unmanned crew capsule towards the International Space Station.
Space X’s 4.9 metre tall Crew Dragon capsule, on a Falcon 9 rocket, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2.49am local time on Saturday (7.49am UK time), carrying a test dummy named Ripley.
The capsule separated as planned from the rocket around 11 minutes later, prompting celebration in the control room, and headed towards the International Space Station.
“I almost thought we would fail. I thought maybe we’d have a 10 percent chance of reaching orbit starting out,” Silicon Valley billionaire Musk said of his feelings when he founded the space company in 2002.
“I’m a little emotionally exhausted because that was super stressful, but it worked,” he said.
The capsule is expected to reach the space station’s three-member crew with 181kg of supplies and equipment early Sunday morning, Nasa said.
The space agency has given Space X and Boeing $6.8bn to build competing rockets and capsules to send astronauts into orbit from US soil for the first time since the US Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.
Either Space X or Boeing will have bragging rights as the first private company to launch humans into space on its own rocket.