For the first time in almost nine years, astronauts have arrived on the International Space Station in a spacecraft made in the United States.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, which NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida named Endeavor shortly after launch on Saturday, was connected to the station at 7:16 a.m. today.
Endeavor brought NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the station's Harmony harbor and prompted space station commander Chris Cassidy to ring the naval bell, which is part of the tradition of welcoming space crews.
"Dragon is coming," Cassidy said.
The astronauts and NASA mission controllers performed leak and communication checks for more than two hours until the last hatch between Endeavor and the space station was opened at 10:02 a.m. Minutes later, Hurley and Behnken floated through the hatch, hugged their new crew on the space station, and posed for a photo op.
"We're just so happy to be on board this great complex," said Hurley, who poked his head as he came through the hatch.
Hurley said via a room-to-ground video connection that he hoped last week's successes would be optimistic about the coronavirus pandemic, economic reversals, and waves of civil unrest.
"This is just an effort that we can show forever in this dark time we have had in the past few months, particularly to inspire young people in the United States to achieve these lofty goals and to work hard and to look at what you can achieve, ”he said.
The last time a US-built spacecraft carried crew to the space station was in July 2011 during the last space shuttle mission. Hurley was also on this mission and played a role in leaving behind a US flag that flew on the first shuttle flight.
For nine years This flag has been waiting to be picked up by the next crew starting from Florida. Now Hurley and Behnken have won the right to recover the flag and bring it back to Earth.
The Dragon capsules of the first generation of SpaceX have been delivering supplies to the station and bringing shipments back to Earth since 2012. And last year, a second generation unscrewed crew dragon visited the station during a demonstration mission. However, the current flight, known as Demonstration Mission 2 or DM-2, was the first time that a spaceship built and owned by a private company put the crew into orbit and then on to the station.
(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvmcG1VNYV8 (/ embed)
Endeavor was under autonomous control for most of the 19-hour flight, but Hurley and Behnken had some chances to try the plane's manual touchscreen controls – the first time such an interface was used for space travel. Before the start, Hurley admitted that the user interface was "a little different". He gave a great rating today.
"It flew exactly as it should. … It's just like the simulator and we couldn't be happier with the performance of the vehicle, ”said Hurley. (You can Try the simulator on the SpaceX website.)
Behnken said that the journey started more smoothly than the typical shuttle launch, but that "Dragon puffed and puffed all the way into orbit" when the Falcon 9 rocket launched its second stage.
"We definitely drove a kite and rode it all the way up," he said. “And so it wasn't quite the same trip, the smooth ride with the Space Shuttle. … A little less G, but a little more "alive" is the best way I would describe it. "
Behnken said he and Hurley had slept "a good seven hours or so" during the flight. Based on the room-to-floor conversation before opening the hatch, they also had the option of using Dragon's on-board toilet.
What does our home planet look like? @ SpaceXCrew Dragon Endeavor? Watch as @ AstroBehnken and @ Astro_Doug Take them into the spaceship and find out about ours #LaunchAmerica Mission: pic.twitter.com/f8b3CrSEPE
– NASA (@NASA) May 31, 2020
Hurley and Behnken will be working with Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner in the coming weeks, but NASA has not yet decided how long the dragon riders will stay. It may take between six and 16 weeks, depending on the course of the demonstration mission and the time for future crew missions.
"Doug and I will be able to take some of the pressure off Chris and his crew," said Behnken.
Gallery: Launchpad photos show the historic SpaceX launch in all its glory
When it's time for the two astronauts to get home, they climb back to Endeavor and ride the kite back for an Atlantic splashdown and a rest.
Only then will SpaceX CEO Elon Musk breathe a sigh of relief. "We need to take them home safely and make sure that we do everything we can to minimize the risk of re-entry," he told reporters on Saturday.
If the mission is completely successful, this would pave the way for regular Crew Dragon trips to and from the station, relieving NASA of the obligation to pay the Russians more than $ 90 million per seat for Soyuz spacecraft travel .
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said A Soyuz seat was bought for an October flight, just to be sure.
Next year, Boeing's Starliner space taxi will join the rotation – provided that a repeat of last December’s incomplete demonstration flight goes as planned.
– Intl. Space station (@Space_Station) May 31, 2020
This report was first published on May 31 at 8:54 a.m.