When SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket Saturday, it will be the beginning of a complex rendezvous with the space station that attempts to test several capabilities in one mission.
A slender white rocket with a Dragon on top is poised to make spaceflight history.
If all goes well, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo capsule will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 4:55 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday en route to the International Space Station.
For Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), Saturday's launch begins a crucial set of technical tests for a rocket and spacecraft designed for regular cargo service to International Space Station. That task is itself is a stepping stone to using the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule to send humans to and from the station, as well as future destinations in low-Earth orbit.
For NASA, the mission represents the first test of its new stance as a customer for launch services to low-Earth orbit. No longer is it the organization sitting in the driver's seat from rocket design through launch to landing. Once the Falcon 9 leaves the pad, control of the mission shifts to SpaceX's command center at its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters. Only when Dragon closes in on the space station will NASA have thumbs-up or thumbs-down say in the test flight's next steps.
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