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SpaceX starts countdown for private trips into orbit

Autopilot: The Dragon
managed to dock itself
without any input from
astronauts in the space
station or mission
control PICTURE: AP

PRIVATE space travel could be closer to becoming a reality after a commercial crew capsule successfully docked at the International Space Station yesterday.

SpaceX, owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk (below), launched its Dragon capsule on its first test flight on Saturday with only a robotic dummy affectionately named Ripley and space station supplies on board.

The mission was supported by NASA and culminated in the Dragon automatically attaching itself to the space station, nearly 260 miles above the Pacific ocean, north of the New Zealand coast.

The successful flight is paving the way for two astronauts to be sent into orbit this summer as part of NASA’s commercial crew programme, based in California.

Both astronauts due to make that journey, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, watched the automatic docking from mission control in Hawthorne, California.

‘Just super excited to see it,’ said Mr Behnken. ‘Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight.’

Dragon will remain at the space station until Friday, when it undocks and aims to splashdown in the Atlantic ocean, a few hundred miles off the Florida coast.