- SpaceX on Saturday launched its first humans into space: veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
- On Sunday morning, the astronauts caught up to the International Space Station inside their Endeavour spaceship — their new name for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft — and docked it there.
- The docking marks a big milestone in the Demo-2 mission, as it’s called; Behnken and Hurley can now stay and work in space for up to 110 days before having to return home.
- The docking is also the first time a crewed private spaceship has linked up to the $150 billion orbiting laboratory.
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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have once again helped make history for SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, by docking to a football field-size laboratory in space.
After careening into space on Saturday atop a Falcon 9 rocket, the astronauts’ spaceship — a Crew Dragon capsule they later named “Endeavour” — disconnected from its launcher and entered orbit. The ship then completed a series of engine burns to catch up to the International Space Station (ISS), which orbits at about 250 miles above Earth’s surface.
On Sunday morning, Behnken and Hurley finally caught up to their target as it traveled 17,500 mph over the planet. Endeavour flew below the $150 billion orbiting laboratory, later pulling up to a stopping point about 220 meters in front of the space station.
The two men then spent a few minutes manually controlling the ship’s thrusters through touchscreens while connected to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
“It flew just about like the [simulator], so my congratulations to the folks in Hawthorne. It flew really well, very really crisp,” Hurley said during a live webcast, adding that its handling was “a little sloppier” in an up-down direction, though as expected.
Behnken and Hurley then turned Endeavour’s autopilot back on, and the spacecraft ever-so-carefully flew itself toward a docking port called Node 2, located at the forward end of the space station.
The ship’s docking mechanism connected to the node at 10:16 a.m. ET while flying over northern China and Mongolia. Latches on the ship then tightly sealed Endeavour to the ISS, allowing the crews to begin a roughly two-hour-long hatch-opening procedure.
SpaceX’s docking at the ISS is the first by a privately developed spaceship with a crew on board.
The last time an American spaceship attached to the space station was July 2011 — the flight of space shuttle Atlantis, a mission that Hurley flew on.
“It’s been a real honor to be a super-small part of this nine-year endeavor, since the last time a United States spaceship has docked with the International Space Station,” Hurley said shortly after docking. “We have to congratulate the men and women of SpaceX at Hawthorne, McGregor, and at Kennedy Space Center. Their incredible efforts over the last several years to make this possible cannot go overstated.”
Hurley then thanked NASA’s staff, after which the ISS commander and astronaut Chris Cassidy rang a ceremonial bell while welcoming Behnken and Hurley.
NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where US mission control for the ISS is based, then chimed in with its own congratulations.
“Endeavour this is Houston. Bob and Doug, welcome to the International Space Station,” said Joshua Kutryk, a Canadian Space Agency astronaut in the control room, calling the crew’s flight a “historic ride” and a “magnificent moment in spaceflight history.”
“You have opened up a new chapter in human space exploration,” he added.
The successful docking means Behnken and Hurley have a home in space for up to the next 110 days.
When their stay ends, the astronauts will climb back into the Endeavour, disembark from the ISS, and careen back to Earth. The goal of the test mission, called Demo-2, is to show SpaceX’s ship is safe to fly people.
If NASA determines it is, then the agency can fully staff the space station with astronaut crews and maximize its ability to perform research. SpaceX, meanwhile, will gain the ability to fly private astronauts to space.
The crews of Endeavour and the ISS are now working to pressurize the hatches. If all goes according to plan, the astronauts in Crew Dragon and the Expedition 63 crew of the ISS will open the hatches around 12:45 p.m. ET, then perform a greeting ceremony around 1:15 p.m. ET, according to NASA TV.
However, the docking appears to be running about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
We’ll update this story as the docking progresses.
This is a developing story.