SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying NASA astronauts docks with International Space Station

SpaceX NASA launch2
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, foreground, and Douglas Hurley, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, are seen as they depart the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building for Launch Complex 39A to board the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for the Demo-2 mission launch, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, U.S.

Just under 19 hours after launching from Florida, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on Sunday, marking the first U.S. space capsule to do so with a crew since 2011.

After a tense automatic docking sequence successfully linked Crew Dragon to the station’s docking adapter, the station’s current crew greeted Behnken and Hurley at an on-schedule hatch opening at 1:02 p.m. EDT. The critical milestone kicks off the crew’s potentially months-long stay in the orbital laboratory.

“It’s been a real honor to be just a small part of this nine-year endeavor since the last time a United States spaceship has docked with the International Space Station,” Hurley said upon a successful “soft-docking.”

The launch on Saturday by SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, represented another milestone for the reusable rockets it pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and more frequent.

It also marked the first time that commercially developed space vehicles – owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA – have carried Americans into orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) on Saturday for the journey to the International Space Station. Just before liftoff, Hurley said, “SpaceX, we’re go for launch. Let’s light this candle,” paraphrasing the famous comment uttered on the launch pad in 1961 by Alan Shepard, the first American flown into space.

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