CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX's new crew capsule arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, acing its second milestone in just over a day.
No one was aboard the capsule launched Saturday on its first test flight, only an instrumented dummy. But the three station astronauts had front-row seats as the sleek, white vessel neatly docked and became the first American-made, designed-for-crew spacecraft to pull up in eight years.
TV cameras on Dragon as well as the space station provided stunning views of one another throughout the rendezvous.
If the six-day demo goes well, SpaceX could launch two astronauts this summer under NASA's commercial crew program. Both astronauts — Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — were at SpaceX Mission Control in Southern California, observing all the action. They rushed there from Florida after watching the Dragon rocket into orbit early Saturday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
"Just super excited to see it," Behnken said minutes after the link-up. "Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here."
While SpaceX has sent plenty of cargo Dragons to the space station, crew Dragon is a different beast. It docked autonomously, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for help.
The spacecraft will remain attached to the orbiting outpost for a week, before undocking on March 8 and splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida, several hours later.
The spacecraft is designed to carry up to seven passengers to the space station, but for this flight, the capsule is loaded up with 450 pounds of cargo and a test dummy outfitted in one of SpaceX’s customized spacesuits. The dummy is nicknamed Ripley, in honor of Ellen Ripley, the fictional character played by Sigourney Weaver in the 1979 film “Alien,” Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of Build and Flight Reliability, revealed Thursday in a pre-launch news briefing.
Last year, SpaceX sent another spacesuit-clad test dummy — this one named Starman in a nod to David Bowie — into space on the inaugural launch of the company’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was developed in partnership with NASA to help the space agency replace its space shuttle fleet, which was retired in 2011. Since then, NASA has been relying on Russian rockets and space capsules to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station, for a reported cost of $80 million per journey.
In 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing a combined $6.8 billion contract to build a pair of new spacecraft. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule could undergo its first uncrewed test flight in April.
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