SpaceX's Crew Dragon spaceship docked with the International Space Station for the first time today, marking a successful uncrewed rehearsal of the procedure that astronauts will go through when they make their first arrival with the next flight.
The first American commercially built-and-operated crew spacecraft in eight years docked successfully Sunday at the International Space Station.
Those handpicked space travelers, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, watched the Crew Dragon launch from Florida, then traveled to Hawthorne to see operations unfold along with the SpaceX team, according to NASA.
Dragon will remain at the space station until Friday, when it undocks and aims to splashdown in the Atlantic ocean, a few hundred miles off the Florida coast. It was set up by entrepreneur Elon Musk with the specific intention of taking people beyond Earth. The test dummy - or Smarty as SpaceX likes to call it, given all the instrumentation - is named Ripley after the lead character in the science-fiction "Alien" films.
Dragon was gradually climbing in altitude toward the ISS, which is orbiting the Earth at around 400 kilometers altitude and at a speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour - orbiting the Earth in 90 minutes.
NASA's associate administrator for human exploration Bill Gerstenmaier said using a private company for astronaut launches would not compromise on standards.
"This flight test will inform the system design, operations and drive any changes that need to be made ahead of crew flights".
"We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011", said Bridenstine, who got a special tour of the launch pad on the eve of launch, by Musk. After some checks, the masks were discarded and work began on evaluating the Crew Dragon's overall suitability for the mission. Russian Soyuz seats go for up to $82 million apiece.
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.
SpaceX is looking to start flights from as early as July this year. Having no humans onboard to guide it, it was also a test of automated docking systems for future runs.
"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew programme. The Starliner is now due to make its first uncrewed test flight no earlier than April, and its first crewed flight no earlier than August.