SpaceX Crew Dragon successfully docks at space station

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SpaceX Crew Dragon's launch is the first launch of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft and space system designed for humans.
SpaceX Crew Dragon's launch is the first launch of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft and space system designed for humans.

In a first for a commercially built and operated spacecraft designed for crew, SpaceX Crew Dragon successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS).

The Crew Dragon capsule, launched on Saturday on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, docked with the ISS on 3 March at 5:51am EST (1051 GMT), marking another success to pave the way for a new era of sending humans to space.

The docking was about 27 hours after launching into orbit from NASA's Kennedy Space Centre on Florida's Space Coast.

Dragon linked up with a docking port on the station's Harmony module as the two craft sailed 402km over the Pacific Ocean, just north of New Zealand.

"Congratulations to all the teams on a successful docking," NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed mission control from aboard the space station. She and her crewmates, David Saint-Jacques of Canada and Oleg Konenko of Russia, followed the docking closely.

Crew Dragon will spend the next five days attached to the orbiting lab, eventually ending its uncrewed shakeout cruise, which is known as Demo-1, with a parachute-aided splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday morning (8 March).

"Today's successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine after the launch.

"I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation's space history. This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond."

SpaceX's inaugural flight with NASA's Commercial Crew Programme is an important uncrewed mission designed to test the end-to-end capabilities of the new system, says NASA.

It adds that this brings the nation one step closer to the return of human launches to the space station from the US for the first time since 2011, the last space shuttle mission. Teams still have work to do after this flight to prepare the spacecraft to fly astronauts. The best way to advance the system design was to fly this spacecraft and uncover any other areas or integrated flight changes that might be required, NASA says.

"First a note of appreciation to the SpaceX team. It has been 17 years to get to this point, 2002 to now, and an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people that got us to this point...I'd also like to express great appreciation for NASA," said Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX.

"SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start."

"We are watching history being made with the launch of the SpaceX Demo-1 mission," said Steve Stich, launch manager and deputy manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Programme.

"SpaceX and NASA teams have been working together for years, and now we are side-by-side in control rooms across the country for launch, in-orbit operations and, eventually, splashdown of the Crew Dragon right here off Florida's coast."

After undocking from the station, Crew Dragon will begin its descent to Earth. Live coverage of the undocking will air on NASA Television and the agency's Web site.

NASA and SpaceX will use data from Demo-1, along with planned upgrades and additional qualification testing, to further prepare for Demo-2, the crewed flight test that will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS.

NASA will validate the performance of SpaceX's systems before putting crew on board for the Demo-2 flight, currently targeted for July.

NASA's Commercial Crew Programme is working with Boeing and SpaceX to design, build, test and operate safe, reliable and cost-effective human transportation systems to low-Earth orbit.

Both companies are focused on test missions, including abort system demonstrations and crew flight tests, ahead of regularly flying crew missions to the space station. Both companies' crewed flights will be the first times in history NASA has sent astronauts to space on systems owned, built, tested and operated by private companies.

SpaceX Demo-1 Crew Dragon docking to ISS

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