This morning, SpaceX's new Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked at the International Space Station and brought the company's first crew to the orbiting outpost. Your arrival marks another important milestone for SpaceX's first Crew Mission for Crew Dragon, which successfully launched yesterday, May 30, from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Now Crew Dragon passengers – NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley – will begin a longer stay aboard the ISS, which may take up to four months. You will join three crew members who already live on board the station: NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
Docking the Crew Dragon showed one of the greatest features of the SpaceX capsule
"It's been a real honor to be a small part of this nine-year-old company since a US spacecraft last docked at the International Space Station," said Hurley after the docking was complete. “We have to congratulate the men and women from SpaceX, Hawthorne McGregor and Kennedy Space Center. Your incredible efforts in recent years to make this possible cannot be overstated. "
The crew dragon docking showed one of the greatest features of the SpaceX capsule: the automated docking system. The vehicle is designed so that it approaches the ISS autonomously and locks into a standardized docking port without the human passengers having to do anything. SpaceX successfully demonstrated this capability last year when it sent a crew-free trial version of the Crew Dragon to the space station. This time, however, the company had to prove that the crew could deliver Dragon if they had their most valuable cargo on board.
This automatic docking function is a significant upgrade for the Crew Dragon. The capsule's predecessor, SpaceX's Cargo Dragon, did not have this ability when it delivered supplies and food to the ISS. In all of these cargo missions, astronauts on board the ISS had to use the station's robotic arm to grab an approaching cargo kite and bring it to a docking port. This technique is called docking and requires a lot of work from the astronauts on board the ISS. The automated functions of the Crew Dragon are designed to give astronauts time to work on other things when new crews arrive.
The Crew Dragon seen from the space station, about two hours before the capsule docked with the ISS.
Astronauts who fly in the Crew Dragon can continue to control the vehicle manually if necessary. Indeed, Behnken and Hurley tried manual flying during their time in space – once after launch and a second time as they approached the space station. Flying the vehicle manually requires connection to the elegant touchscreen displays of the Crew Dragon. The gloves of the SpaceX pressure suits are touchscreen compatible, so that the astronauts can interact with the screens if necessary. When the crew was 220 meters from the ISS, Hurley showed that he could fly the vehicle with gloves before the automatic docking system took over. The feathers of the capsule's tiny engines were visible from the space station cameras as the vehicle headed toward the ISS.
Plumes as Endeavor is approaching the ISS.
Image: NASA / SpaceX
They dock after the astronauts have spent about 19 hours in the Dragon crew that orbits after launch on Saturday. After Behnken and Hurley reached orbit, they announced that they had called their capsule Endeavor. "We chose Endeavor for a number of reasons: First, NASA, SpaceX and the United States have been active because of this incredible project since the end of the shuttle program in 2011," said Hurley during an event straight after launch. "The other reason why we called it Endeavor is a little more personal for Bob and me. We both had our first flights with Shuttle Endeavor, and it just meant so much to us to keep that name going."
During the space journey, Behnken and Hurley turned a blind eye before approaching the ISS to get a better feel for what it was like to sleep on the Crew Dragon. It turns out to be a convenient place for a nap. "We slept well last night," said Behnken during an event before he came to the ISS. "I think we were surprised at how well we actually slept on board the vehicle – a little quieter than the Space Shuttle, a little more environmentally conscious." The crew dragon also has a toilet in case they need to use the facilities during the trip (although the crew didn't say if they used them).
Docking takes place in Crew Dragon after about 19 hours
Docking took place this morning at 10:29 a.m.ET. Now you have to wait a little until Behnken and Hurley get out of the vehicle. The astronauts open the hatch of the Crew Dragon around 12:45 p.m. ET. The crew will then host a small welcome ceremony about 30 minutes later.
After Behnken and Hurley have arrived on the ISS, it is unclear when they will come home. The two are expected to stay on board the ISS for between six and 16 weeks. It all depends on how much work NASA demands from you while you are up there. At some point, NASA will decide when to bring the duo home. Then Behnken and Hurley will climb back into the Crew Dragon and take the plunge back to Earth.
Strive in the shadow of the ISS.
Image: NASA / SpaceX
The Crew Dragon is equipped with a heat shield to protect astronauts from the scorching journey through the Earth's atmosphere. It also has four parachutes that gently lower crews into the Atlantic where they are salvaged by a SpaceX ship. This intense journey will be the final test of the Crew Dragon for NASA as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program, the initiative to fly NASA astronauts to and from the space station in private vehicles.
SpaceX and the Crew Dragon are currently taking a little break as the first half of this crucial test mission is complete. The crews will check the Crew Dragon while it is docked on the ISS, but it remains mostly sluggish, like a parked car. When it is time for Behnken and Hurley to return home, all eyes will be back on the performance of the Crew Dragon.