Astronauts Dock With Space Station After Historic SpaceX Launch


The Crew Dragon has arrived.

On Saturday, SpaceX, the rocket firm based by Elon Musk, launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule carrying two NASA astronauts on prime. SpaceX is now the primary personal enterprise to perform a feat — taking individuals to orbit — that had till now solely been performed by nations.

Less than a day later, the spacecraft docked on the International Space Station, efficiently finishing the primary leg of its journey.

This Crew Dragon check flight is a shakedown cruise to certify that the spacecraft meets NASA’s wants and security requirements as a way to begin routine journeys taking astronauts to and from the area station. The company has relied on Russia for that job because the area shuttles have been retired in 2011. Once astronauts start utilizing the capsule with regularity, area vacationers might additionally start to fly it within the years to come back.

At 1:22 p.m. Eastern time, the 2 astronauts, Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, disembarked the Crew Dragon, exchanging handshakes and hugs with the three astronauts already on the area station.

“Welcome to the International Space Station,” Christopher Cassidy, the NASA astronaut who is current commander of the space station, said to Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley. “Please come aboard.”

“We did get probably a good seven hours or so opportunity for sleep.” Mr. Behnken replied. “And I did succeed at sleep.”

But over the next few weeks, the astronauts will periodically turn on the Crew Dragon and check. If the solar arrays turn out to be more resilient than predicted, the mission could be extended beyond four months.

During the welcome ceremony, Brian Babin, a Republican congressman whose district includes the Johnson Space Center, asked how this flight compared with the astronauts’ earlier trips to space aboard the space shuttles.

Mr. Behnken said that while the shuttles offered a rougher ride getting off the launchpad, the ascent became smoother. “But Dragon was huffing and puffing all the way into orbit,” he said. “A little bit more alive is probably the best way I would describe it.”

Once in orbit, the spacecraft appeared to smoothly pass all of its tests. “Today, the Dragon is extremely healthy,” said Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s commercial crew program. “There’s really no major problems.

During Sunday’s docking, the approach of the Crew Dragon proceeded smoothly, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule, with a camera on the space station capturing the red, green and white lights of the capsule as it steadily crept up over the course of a couple of hours. The astronauts took over manual control for a while, firing the thrusters to nudge the position of the spacecraft. They then turned control back to a computer on board for the final steps, leading to docking at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley then had to wait close to three hours more as air pressure was equalized between their capsule and the station, tests verified no air leaks and the spacecraft was plugged into the outpost’s power systems.

“As you are performing your inventory please collect all your food and water bottle trash,” Anna Menon, a SpaceX mission controller in Hawthorne, Calif., reminded Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley before they exited their spacecraft.

If no major problems arise during this test flight, NASA will use data from this flight to certify that the Crew Dragon is ready for routine flights to the space station. The next Crew Dragon mission — and the first operational one — is to carry four astronauts: three from NASA and one from the Japanese space agency.

But Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley got there first.

“We were just the lucky guys who got to fly the rocket yesterday,” Mr. Hurley said.



Source link Nytimes.com

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