MARTIN: SpaceX, the space exploration company founded by Elon Musk, developed Crew Dragon, which is the first American spacecraft capable of carrying humans to be launched since NASA stopped developing its own space shuttles in 2011.
The demonstration flight of America's new astronaut capsule will see it attempt to dock with the International Space Station (ISS).
"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. Its destination is the International Space Station, which it is scheduled to reach by Sunday, with a return to Earth next Friday.
Crew now aboard the ISS completed a checkout of the docking port in advance of Saturday's launch, and verified the docking system was "go" for docking.
In this photo provided by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon is pictured about 20 meters (66 feet) away from the International Space Station‚Äôs Harmony module, Sunday, March 3, 2019.
"Today's successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a statement.
"We're looking forward to being one customer of many customers in a robust commercial market place in low-Earth orbit, so we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that historically have not been possible".
Aboard the ISS, NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut and Expedition 58 commander Oleg Kononenko opened the hatch between the Crew Dragon and the orbital laboratory at 8:07 am Eastern Time (1307 GMT).
Despite SpaceX's success at recovering and reusing its rockets, NASA is insisting on brand new boosters from SpaceX for the crew capsule flights.
In 2012, SpaceX made history when the Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS.
Dragon crew capsules will splashdown in the Atlantic not far from Kennedy.
It can carry as many as seven people and has three windows, emergency-abort engines that can pull the capsule to safety, and streamlined controls, with just 30 buttons and touch screens, compared with the space shuttle cockpit's 2,000 switches and circuit breakers.
Just two hours after the Dragon's grand entrance, the station crew entered to take air samples.