SpaceX Crew Dragon docks with International Space Station
WASHINGTON, May 31, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule
carrying two NASA astronauts docked Sunday with the International
Space Station, the first time a crewed US spacecraft has performed the
feat in nearly a decade.
It was also a first for the private sector, a triumphant moment for
the company founded by Elon Musk in 2002. NASA hopes to build on such
partnerships to usher in a new era of space travel.
“Soft capture,” the moment when the spacecraft makes first contact
and starts latching with the target vehicle, occurred at 10:16 am
Eastern Time (1416 GMT), a little ahead of schedule.
At the time, the ISS was orbiting 262 miles (422 kilometers) over
the border between Mongolia and northern China.
A few minutes later, “hard capture” was achieved when the two
spacecraft were joined with an airtight seal.
On board are astronauts Bob Behnkhen and Doug Hurley, both veterans
of the Space Shuttle program that was shuttered in 2011.
“We copy, docking is complete,” said Hurley, the spacecraft commander.
“It’s been a real honor to be a small part of this nine year
endeavor since the last time a United States spaceship has docked with
the International Space Station.”
Next, the vestibule between the Dragon and the ISS will be
pressurized and the hatch will be opened.
Behnkhen and Hurley will then join fellow NASA astronauts Chris
Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts on board the station.
The Crew Dragon capsule had spent the previous 19 hours chasing down
the station at speeds of 17,500 miles per hour (28,000 kph), before
carefully aligning its orbital plane and slowing down to a crawl for
the delicate docking procedure.
– ‘Overcome with emotion’ –
SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket began its voyage Saturday,
blasting off flawlessly in a cloud of bright orange flames and smoke
from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley, told SpaceX mission control in
Hawthorne, California, before liftoff at 3:22 pm (1922 GMT) from
NASA’s storied Launch Pad 39A.
“I’m really quite overcome with emotion,” Musk said. “It’s been 18
years working towards this goal.
“This is hopefully the first step on a journey towards civilization
on Mars,” the SpaceX founder said.
In a brief interview from space, Hurley said that in keeping with
tradition, he and Behnken had named the Crew Dragon capsule
“Endeavour” after the retired space shuttle on which they both flew.
The mission, dubbed “Demo-2,” ends a government monopoly on space
flight and is the final test flight before NASA certifies SpaceX’s
capsule for regular crewed missions.
– Pandemic and protests –
The mission comes amid the coronavirus crisis and protests in
multiple US cities over the death of a black man in Minneapolis while
he was being arrested by a white police officer.
President Donald Trump flew to Florida to watch the launch and
delivered remarks to NASA and SpaceX employees on what he called a
Trump first addressed the protests, saying he understood “the pain
people are feeling” but that he would not tolerate “mob violence.”
Trump praised Musk and said the launch “makes clear the commercial
space industry is the future.”
He also repeated his vow to send American astronauts back to the
Moon in 2024 and eventually to Mars.
Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, are former military test pilots who
joined NASA in 2000.
They blasted off from Launch Pad 39A, the same one used by Neil
Armstrong on Apollo 11’s 1969 journey to the Moon.