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Astronauts arrive at space station

  • In this image taken from NASA TV video, the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken aboard, docks with the International Space Station Sunday, May 31, 2020. It was the first time a privately built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the orbiting lab in its nearly 20 years. (NASA TV via AP)

  • The SpaceX Dragon crew capsule, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken aboard docks with the International Space Station on Sunday. NASA TV via ap

  • In this image taken from NASA TV video, the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken aboard, docks with the International Space Station Sunday, May 31, 2020. It was the first time a privately built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the orbiting lab in its nearly 20 years. (NASA TV via AP)

  • A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule, lifts off from Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020. The two astronauts are on the SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts blasted towards orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) David J. Phillip

  • NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, May 30, 2020. The two astronauts will fly on a SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/John Raoux) John Raoux

  • In this photo provided by NASA, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen in this false color infrared exposure as it is launched on NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP) NASA/Bill Ingalls

  • Spectators watch from a bridge in Titusville, Fla., as SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, Saturday, May 30, 2020, from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The two astronauts are on the SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts blasted toward orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel

AP Aerospace Writer
Published: 5/31/2020 5:15:42 PM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX delivered two astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Sunday, following up a historic liftoff with an equally smooth docking in yet another first for Elon Musk’s company.

With test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken poised to take over manual control if necessary, the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically, no assistance needed. The linkup occurred 262 miles above the China-Mongolia border.

”Congratulations on a phenomenal accomplishment and welcome to the International Space Station,” SpaceX Mission Control radioed from Hawthorne, Calif.

It was the first time a privately built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the orbiting lab in its nearly 20 years.

NASA considers this the opening volley in a business revolution encircling Earth and eventually stretching to the moon and Mars.

“Bravo on a magnificent moment in spaceflight history,” NASA’s Mission Control piped in from Houston.

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy greeted the incoming crew by ringing the ship’s bell aboard the space station.

The docking occurred a little early, barely 19 hours after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Saturday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, the nation’s first astronaut launch to orbit from home soil in nearly a decade.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, thousands jammed surrounding beaches, bridges and towns to watch as SpaceX became the world’s first private company to send astronauts into orbit, and ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA. The achievement, years in the making, is expected to drive down launch costs so more people might be able to afford a ticket to space in the coming years.

A few hours before docking, the Dragon riders reported that their capsule, newly named Endeavour, after the retired shuttle, was performing beautifully. Just in case, they slipped back into their pressurized launch suits and helmets for the rendezvous.

Gleaming white in the sunlight, the Dragon was easily visible from a few miles out, its nose cone open and exposing its docking hook as well as a blinking light. The capsule loomed ever larger on live NASA TV as it closed the gap.

Hurley and Behnken took over the controls — using high-tech touchscreens — and did a little piloting less than a couple hundred yards out as part of the test flight, before putting it back into automatic for the final approach. Hurley said the capsule handled “really well, very crisp.”

The astronauts thanked everyone once the capsule was latched securely to the space station.




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