SpaceX’s newly launched capsule with four astronauts onboard has docked with the International Space Station (ISS), the crew’s home for the next six months.
The Dragon capsule arrived at 11.01pm ET after a 27-hour, completely automated flight from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. There was a brief delay after the “sunset” threw shadows across the docking area, making it more difficult for the crew to monitor the procedure.
The linkup occurred 262 miles (422km) above Idaho. The crew entered the ISS shortly after 1am ET, being greeted warmly with embraces from the station crew.
“Oh, what a good voice to hear,” space station astronaut Kate Rubins called out when the Dragon’s commander, Mike Hopkins, first made radio contact. “We can’t wait to have you on board,” she added after the two spacecraft were latched together.
As they prepared for the space station linkup, the Dragon crew beamed down live window views of New Zealand and a brilliant blue, cloud-streaked Pacific 250 miles below.
“Looks amazing,” Mission Control radioed from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. “It looks amazing from up here, too,” Hopkins replied.
It is the first time Elon Musk’s company has delivered a crew for a full half-year station stay.
The three Americans and one Japanese astronaut will remain at the orbiting lab until their replacements arrive on another Dragon capsule in April. And so it will go, with SpaceX — and eventually Boeing — transporting astronauts to and from the station for Nasa in a kind of galactic taxi service.
Hopkins and his crew – Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi – join two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan. Glover will be the first African-American to move in for a long haul. A first-time flyer, Glover was presented his gold astronaut pin on Monday.
The four named their capsule Resilience to provide hope and inspiration during an especially difficult year for the whole world. They broadcast a tour of their capsule Monday, showing off the touchscreen controls and storage areas.
Walker said it was a little tighter for them than for the two astronauts on the test flight. “We sort of dance around each other to stay out of each other’s way,” she said.
For Sunday’s launch, Nasa kept guests to a minimum because of coronavirus, and even Musk had to stay away after tweeting that he “most likely” had an infection. He was replaced in his official launch duties by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, who assured reporters he was still very much involved with Sunday night’s action, although remotely.