The Associated PressJune 01, 2020 12:17:25 PM
SpaceX delivered two astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Sunday after a historic takeoff with an equally smooth dock in yet another novelty for Elon Musk's company.
With test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken prepared to assume manual control, if necessary, the SpaceX Dragon capsule stopped at the station and fitted automatically without assistance. The hatches opened a few hours later, and the two Dragon horsemen floated into the orbiting laboratory and embraced the station's three residents.
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 31, 2020
– SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 31, 2020
Unlike the SpaceX and NASA flight control rooms, where everyone was well away, there was no social distance or masks needed in orbit, as newcomers were quarantined for many weeks.
"The whole world has seen this mission and we are very proud of everything you have done for our country and, in fact, inspire the world," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine in a Mission Control call in Houston.
This is the first time in human history @NASA_Astronauts entered the @Spacial station of a commercially manufactured spacecraft. @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug finally arrived at the lab in orbit @SpaceXDragon Endeavor spaceship. pic.twitter.com/3t9Ogtpik4
– NASA (@NASA) May 31, 2020
They did that. After starting from @NASAKennedy at the @SpaceX Dragon Endeavor spaceship yesterday, @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug officially joined the @Spacial station team today at 13:02 ET – making history in the process. pic.twitter.com/A7oExw0SlD
– NASA (@NASA) May 31, 2020
Hurley credited SpaceX and added, "It's great to bring the United States back to the manned launch business."
It was the first time that a private, privately owned spacecraft took astronauts to the space station in its more than 20 years of existence. NASA considers this the initial launch of a commercial revolution that involves Earth and eventually extends to the moon and Mars.
"NASA is not going to buy, own and operate rockets and capsules the way we used to," said Bridenstine. "We are going to partner with the commercial industry".
The docking took place just 19 hours after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded on Saturday afternoon at Kennedy Space Center, the country's first astronaut launch to orbit domestic soil in almost a decade and attracted a Washington delegation led by President Donald Trump . Nasa said the peak online audience reached 10 million.
– ESA (@esa) May 31, 2020
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of people crowded beaches, bridges and neighboring cities when SpaceX ended a nine-year drought for NASA. The achievement, years in development, is expected to reduce launch costs, so that more people can buy a space ticket in the coming years.
Behnken told NASA's Johnson Space Center welcoming committee that the dragon was "a slippery vehicle" and said he was surprised at how difficult the trip was on the last part of the climb, compared to the space shuttle, that he and Hurley did it twice.
"Dragon was snorting and orbiting all the way into orbit," he said.
Two members of Congress in Texas, at Johnson, for the anchorage – Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Brian Babin – said the flight offered inspiration and hope during a particularly difficult period of protests and pandemic.
"Playing smoothly was a tremendous blessing for our country," Babin told the astronauts.
Glowing white in the sunlight, the dragon was easily visible on NASA TV a few kilometers from the space station, with its nose open and exposing the anchor hook, as well as a flashing light. Hurley and Behnken took control and made a small test less than a few hundred meters as part of the test flight, before putting it back on automatic for the final approach.
Once aboard the space station, Hurley said the capsule, newly named Endeavor after the retired shuttle, handled it extremely well. He was the pilot of the last American spacecraft to visit the space station – the last flight of Atlantis, in July 2011.
Restoring American launch capability nine years later, he noted, “is just an effort that we can show the ages in this dark period that we have had in the past few months to inspire, especially young people in the United States. , to achieve these high goals. "
There was a small flaw: Hurley hit his head on the space station and frequently wiped his forehead during the welcoming ceremony.
NASA turned to the private sector to regain clearance after the fleet retired, hiring SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 for taxi services to space stations. Boeing's first astronaut flight is not expected until next year.
As of Saturday, SpaceX had only launched supplies from space stations or satellites. Company officials began calling astronauts "parents" to take home the fact that two lives were at stake in this highly technical effort.
Clearly relieved, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted a great "welcome home" to Dragon aviators – "America's two favorite parents."
– Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 31, 2020
NASA has not yet decided how much time Hurley and Behnken will spend on the space station, somewhere between one and four months. While there, they will join NASA's Chris Cassidy and two residents of the Russian station in carrying out experiments and possibly spacewalks to install new batteries from the station.
While US astronauts will continue to hitch a ride on Soyuz's Russian rockets, it will be through an exchange system now that NASA's commercial crew program has finally taken off. NASA spent tens of millions of dollars for each Soyuz seat.
At a show-and-tell on Sunday, the astronauts took a quick tour of the dragon's clean, sparkling interior, quite spacious for a capsule.
The blue sequin dinosaur that accompanies them – their little children's toy, called Tremor – was also in good shape, Behnken assured viewers. Tremor would join Earthy, a plush globe delivered to the space station on last year's test flight of an unmanned dragon, Dragon. Behnken said the two toys would return to Earth with them at the end of the mission.
An old fashioned capsule splashdown is planned.
After takeoff, Musk told reporters that the return of the capsule will be more dangerous in some ways than its launch. Even so, getting the two astronauts to safely orbit and then the space station made everyone sigh with relief.
As always, Musk was looking to the future.
"We hope this is the first step on a journey towards a civilization on Mars," he said on Saturday night.
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