SpaceX's Dragon Crew Capsule Successfully Launches for ISS

Pat Wise
March 7, 2019

SpaceX celebrated the successful launch of its Crew Dragon capsule followed by the successful autonomous docking of the spacecraft at the International Space Station on the weekend as aprelude to the resumption of manned USA space flights, possibly in the next year.

That the docking procedure went without error is not only a sigh of relief for NASA's Commercial Crew Program-the project to replace the retired Space Shuttle that is years behind schedule-but excellent news for the three astronauts now residing on the station.

Doug Hurley, one of the two astronauts chosen for the future first manned flight, said: "We will be ready when SpaceX and Nasa are ready for us to fly".

The Crew Dragon capsule, designated Demo-1, was able to successfully dock with the International Space Station at roughly 3:00 a.m. ET. It would be the first time for a private company to send people to the space station. The capsule's nose cap was wide open like a dragon's mouth, to expose the docking mechanism.

The capsule from the California company founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk didn't include actual crew members - except for a life-size dummy named Ripley, who was named after the lead character in the "Alien" movies.

Although the contact appeared slow, the ISS and the capsule were moving at more than 27,000km/h in orbit around the Earth.

"Welcome to the new era in space flight", McClain said from inside the capsule, framed by Ripley and Little Earth.

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Eleven minutes into the flight, the Dragon is let go and must make its own way to the station. After reaching the 400-meter point, Dragon was set to move in front of the station, 150 meters away - before automatically docking at 1100 GMT. The craft will remain docked for five days before de-orbiting and splashing into the Atlantic at the end of next week.

JIM BRIDENSTINE: 2019 is the year we launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.

This includes demonstrating the on-orbit operation of avionics, communications, telemetry, life support, electrical, and propulsion systems, as well as the guidance, navigation, control (GNC) systems aboard both Falcon 9 and Dragon.

"It's been a long eight years", the Kennedy Space Centre's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket.

The launch marks the first under NASA's commercial crew program.

For SpaceX, this flight is a key milestone in its 17-year history. The robot is "fitted with sensors around the head, neck and spine to record everything an astronaut would experience throughout the mission", Anna Heiney wrote in a NASA blog. NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

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