A SpaceX capsule that could be astronauts’ next ride to orbit from the United States safely reached the International Space Station early Sunday, completing a flawless daylong voyage from Kennedy Space Center on its first test flight.
The Crew Dragon eased into a docking port at 5:51 a.m., becoming the first privately designed and operated spacecraft capable of flying to people to visit the outpost.
The station had not hosted a U.S. crew ship for nearly eight years, since Atlantis on NASA’s final space shuttle mission in July 2011. Since then, only Russia’s Soyuz has flown astronauts up and down.
“Soft capture confirmed,” NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed from inside the station, as the two spacecraft flew 260 miles above Earth north of New Zealand. “Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking.”
Flight controllers cheered at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Latches closed to firmly fasten the Crew Dragon to its port. A little after 8 a.m., McClain and fellow Expedition 58 crew members David Saint-Jacques of Canada and Oleg Kononenko of Russia swung open the capsule’s hatch for the first time in space and began unloading roughly 400 pounds of cargo.
Inside they also greeted Ripley, a test dummy wired with sensors — and named for the “Alien” movies’ lead character — that was the capsule’s only passenger for the uncrewed test flight, along with an Earth-shaped plush toy floating in microgravity.
NASA test pilots Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley could become the first people to fly the capsule as soon as July, and the first astronauts to launch into orbit from U.S. soil since the Atlantis crew.
“It was just super-exciting to see it,” said Behnken, who with Hurley watched the action from SpaceX’s flight control room. “Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here.”
Called Demo-1, the demonstration mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program blasted off from Florida’s Space Coast atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 2:49 a.m. Saturday.
Image: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule after docking to the International Space Station early Sunday, March 3, during the Demo-1 mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (Photo: NASA TV)