Insight: SpaceX launches its first crew capsule. Here’s what that means.

SpaceX launches its first crew capsule. Here’s what that means.

It’s been nearly eight years since astronauts blasted into orbit from a U.S. launch pad-but that might be about to change. Just before 3 a.m. ET on March 2, a rocket carrying SpaceX’s first capsule designed for humans, the Crew Dragon, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If there’s no one in the crew capsule, what is it carrying?

Ripley, a sensor-wearing “anthropomorphic test device” named after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien, is making the trip to the ISS and will help engineers assess the conditions inside the crew capsule. In addition, the capsule is carrying a plush stuffed Earth that will indicate when the capsule has reached microgravity, a bunch of dead weight meant to simulate on-board crew and cargo, and roughly 400 pounds of actual cargo for the space station, such as extra hardware and supplies, the Planetary Society reports.

“Once Ripley comes back home, she is going to give us all the data, and that’s going to get us one step closer to human spaceflight for everyone,” says SpaceX’s Alireza Farjoud.

What does this mean for NASA agreements with Russia and other commercial space companies?

NASA is currently buying seats aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for somewhere around $80 million a ticket.

“NASA and Roscosmos have and will continue to work closely as partners for the sustainability of human exploration systems. For safe operations of the International Space Station, we have historically flown crews that include both U.S. and Russian crew members,” Finch writes. After all, as the name implies, the space station is made of modules designed and built by multiple countries.

“By flying integrated crews,” Finch writes, “we ensure [both] a U.S. and Russian crew member are on board to operate the space station.”

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