KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — A rocket launch Saturday morning is a crucial step to launching astronauts on American soil again.

  • Falcon 9 launch set for 2:49 a.m. Saturday at Kennedy Space Center
  • Rocket will carry an unmanned Dragon crew capsule for its first test
  • If successful, a crewed launch will happen in July
  • COMPLETE COVERAGE: Space News | Rocket Launches

SpaceX and NASA approved the test launch for a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a Dragon crew capsule on its first flight after conducting a safety review.

The launch is set for Saturday at 2:49 a.m. from Kennedy Space Center. Weather is also 80 percent "go" for launch.

The capsule will fly to the International Space Station and dock with it, carrying a test dummy, radiation monitors and supplies. The capsule will stay docked at the ISS for a few days before it returns home, splashing down in the Atlantic with science samples and used equipment inside.

In addition to launching a new capsule, SpaceX will use a new Falcon 9 rocket, rather than one with recycled boosters.

The capsule will not be manned, as part of the test. However, if the test launch is successful, NASA and SpaceX will move forward with a launch with two astronauts on board in July. That will be the first time astronauts launched from U.S. soil since the shuttle program ended eight years ago.

SpaceX isn't the only private company gearing up for a crewed rocket launch this year.

Boeing will conduct its own test launch for a Boeing Starliner crew capsule in April, on board an Atlas V rocket. If that launch is successful, Boeing would send two astronauts into space in August.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.