SpaceX's Crew Dragon makes history with successful docking at the ISS
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon has continued charting its history-making course through space by successfully delivering astronauts to the International Space Station, becoming the first privately built spacecraft to do so. The two NASA astronauts aboard the flight have now joined the crew aboard the orbiting laboratory, where they will spend some time before hopping back into the Crew Dragon capsule and making a break for home.
The Demo-2 mission that successfully lifted off on Saturday made history as the first commercial mission to carry astronauts to orbit. It was also the first time NASA has launched a crewed mission from US soil since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
While a monumental achievement for NASA and SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 and has very public ambitions of one day launching crewed missions all the way to Mars, there remains some ways to go before Demo-2 is hailed a total success.
But at 1:02pm ET, less than 24 hours after launch, the mission took another significant step forward, with spacecraft commander Douglas Hurley and joint operations commander Robert Behnken entering the ISS from a privately built spacecraft for the first time in history.
This followed an autonomous docking procedure that will see the Crew Dragon parked at the ISS for at least a month. During its stay, the crew will carry out tests on the Crew Dragon along with other research projects aboard the ISS. The mission duration is still to be determined, but once concluded Hurley and Behnken will climb back into the capsule and have it autonomously undock and make its way back to Earth.
This will mark another nail-biting test for SpaceX and NASA, with the Crew Dragon to fly through Earth’s atmosphere and make a splashdown off the coast of Florida. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has described this part of the mission as his “biggest concern,” according to Business Insider, owing to an asymmetrical design of the spaceship and a minor chance of rotation as it flies through the atmosphere at many times the speed of sound.
Crew Dragon is expected to remain docked with the ISS for at least a month, and while the exact length of its stay is yet to be decided, the spacecraft used for Demo-2 is capable of remaining in orbit for 110 days.
To check out some of the imagery from the mission so far, have a flick through the photo gallery.