NASA's SpaceX Dragon capsule docks with ISS on pioneering mission

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The Dragon Crew capsule has docked with the International Space Station in orbit high above Mongolia.

NASA have confirmed in the last few minutes that the SpaceX-constructed module has achieved a successful “soft capture” manoeuvre with the giant space station.

Twelve hooks have engaged, ensuring an airtight seal between the ISS and the SpaceX vehicle.

The docking is one of the most delicate and dangerous parts of the mission. The Dragon Crew capsule and the International Space Station came together while they were orbiting 250 miles above the Earth and moving at 17,500 m.p.h.

US astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are now preparing to board the ISS. Mission Control reported that, aside from a minor problem with Behnken’s space suit, the docking had gone off without a hitch.

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SpaceX have released an online ISS docking simulator and you can try your hand at the tricky process here.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hailed the mission as the beginning of “a new era in human space exploration.”

The Dragon Crew capsule is designed to replace the Space Shuttle program, which was cancelled after 135 missions. The program will forever be associated with the tragic losses of Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003 – accidents that resulted in the deaths of 14 astronauts.

NASA's SpaceX Dragon capsule docks with ISS on pioneering mission
The docking took place over Earth’s “night” side
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Hurley is a former Space Shuttle pilot, and was waiting with Behnken at the space centre’s Shuttle Landing Facility on the morning of February 1, 2003 for the landing of ill-fated shuttle Columbia .

He was one of the NASA staff dispatched to collect the crew’s personal effects to send back to their familes.

Speaking at the time, he said:. “That was excruciating to do that. You were packing notes to parents that the kids had written. I still, to this day, can’t imagine what that must have been like for those families to go through.”

NASA streamed the moment that the hatches were opened on their website
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“It has had a sustained and lasting effect on me personally. I don’t know how to explain what exactly it changed, but there was my life before February 1, 2003, and then there was my life after. I think there probably are a fair amount of people here who would be able to say that. Maybe it was youth, my loss of that. Or idealism. Something. It really did have an effect.”

Behnken was also part of the Shuttle program, and made a successful space walk from Endeavour in 2008.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule took roughly 19 hours to reach the ISS
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Hurley and Behnken began their journey on SpaceX’s the Crew Dragon capsule on top of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Saturday evening.

Although the space station orbits at around 220 miles above the planet, it took almost a day for the Dragon to rendezvous with the moving laboratory.

Bob Behnken (rear) and Doug Hurley are NASA veterans
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The spacecraft had to perform a series of manoeuvres to raise its obit to come close enough to dock at the space station.

The Dragon docked autonomously to a port on the bow section of the of the station’s Harmony module.

SpaceX
This is the first time NASA have used a commercial company to deliver a crew to orbit
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Hurley and Behnken are joining three other space station residents, Nasa’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, to become members of the Expedition 63 crew.

The mission, named Demo-2, marks the first time Nasa has launched astronauts from US soil in nine years.

SpaceX also made history by becoming the first private company to send humans into orbit.

The aim of the mission is to demonstrate SpaceX’s ability to ferry astronauts to the space station and back safely.

It is the final major step required by SpaceX’s astronaut carrier, the Crew Dragon, to get certified by Nasa’s Commercial Crew Programme for long-term manned missions to space.

The mission is expected to last anything between one and four months, with a number of tests being performed on the Dragon.


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