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SpaceX Is Launching a Historic Crew Dragon Test Flight for NASA Tonight! Watch It Live

Update for 3:50 am EST: SpaceX has successfully launched its first Crew Dragon spacecraft. Read our full story

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.— SpaceX is counting down toward a historic test flight early Saturday of its first spaceship designed to carry astronauts, and you can watch the action live online.

The spacecraft, called Crew Dragon, will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center here in the wee hours of Saturday, March 2, to help show the space agency that it's ready to launch astronauts. Liftoff is set for 2:49 a.m. EST (0749 GMT) from Pad 39A — the exact same site used by NASA's Apollo moon shots and where, nearly eight years ago, the agency launched its final space shuttle mission.

"We are on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a Twitter statement. Tonight's test, he added is a "critical piece" in the path to that goal.

You can watch SpaceX's Crew Dragon launch on Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT). The preparations running up to launch day have gone smoothly for SpaceX. There's an 80 percent chance of good weather for the test flight. 

Related: SpaceX Dragon Crew Demo-1 Flight: Full Coverage

SpaceX's first Crew Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on March 2, 2019, at 2:49 a.m. EST. 

(Image credit: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

For SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk in the pursuit of private space travel and trips to Mars, Crew Dragon's Demo-1 mission (as it's called) is a big milestone.

"It's a culmination of what we were founded for, to some extent," Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president for build and reusability, told reporters Thursday (Feb. 28). "This is what we wanted to do."

In 2014, NASA tapped SpaceX (and rival Boeing as well) to fly astronauts to the station under the agency's Commercial Crew program, which aims to restore the ability to fly American astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil. Since NASA's shuttle fleet retired in 2011, the agency has been dependent on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft to fly astronauts into orbit. 

SpaceX has been flying uncrewed versions of the Dragon spacecraft to deliver NASA cargo to the International Space Station since 2012. The Hawthorne, California-based company evolved that Dragon cargo ship into a 21st-century space capsule equipped with a life-support system, emergency escape rockets and sleek touchscreen controls. 

Boeing, meanwhile, is building a spacecraft called the CST-100 Starliner, which launches on Atlas V rockets and aims to make its debut uncrewed test in April. 

If all goes well with Crew Dragon's launch, the spacecraft will arrive at the International Space Station early Sunday (March 3) and spend five days docked at the orbiting laboratory before returning to Earth on March 8. SpaceX then aims to launch an in-flight abort test flight, also uncrewed, in the next few months.

The first Crew Dragon to carry people is due to launch in July, and the astronauts who will fly that Demo-2 mission — Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley —  will be watching the Demo-1 flight from its launch control center. Two other astronauts, Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover, are also watching closely. They'll be on the first Crew Dragon to fly an operational mission to the space station. 

"It's a pretty big deal," Hurley told reporters here at KSC today. "When we first started, this program was just PowerPoint charts, and now we've got a vehicle out on the pad."

Visit Space.com tonight for complete coverage of SpaceX's Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission.

 Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.  

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