The Crew Dragon capsule was launched on top of one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, and contains 400lb of cargo, as well as a sophisticated crash dummy named Ripley, a reference to Sigourney Weaver's character in the Alien franchise.
A SpaceX rocket with a newly designed unmanned crew capsule blasted off on Saturday for the International Space Station, in a key milestone for Elon Musk's space company and NASA's long-delayed goal to resume human spaceflight from USA soil later this year.
The next tricky step for the capsule will be docking at the ISS on Sunday at around 1100 GMT, with a return to Earth scheduled for next Friday.
"It's been a long eight years", the Kennedy Space Center's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket. The big first is whether the capsule's autonomous systems can maneuver and dock with the station.
In 2014, the USA space agency awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for them to take over this task.
The rocket blasted off without incident at 2:49 am from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, lighting up Florida's coastline.
For SpaceX, which Musk founded in 2002, sending an astronaut into orbit would be a culmination of years of hard work and high-risk investment.
The Demo-1 mission, SpaceX's inaugural flight with NASA's Commercial Crew Program, will provide the teams an end-to-end flight test to ensure the spacecraft and systems operate as designed before launching with astronauts. "We've got to dock to the space station and come back". While Falcon 9's have completed many successful lift-offs, today's was special because it is the first outing for SpaceX's new Crew Dragon module, created to take astronauts into orbit. NASA is providing eight billion USA dollars for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems. "We're pretty good at throwing things into space". "It's done. Now we're in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right".
"We're only partway through the mission", Musk said.
The capsule is created to dock and undock automatically with the space station.
"We're going to take it day by day", Bridenstine said of the timeline.
Despite SpaceX's success at recovering and reusing its rockets, NASA is insisting on brand new boosters from SpaceX for the crew capsule flights.
Musk anticipates eventually selling Dragon rides to private citizens, much as the Russians have done, first to the space station and then perhaps beyond.