Over the weekend, SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) paving the way for astronauts flying to space from American soil, something that hasn't been done since the Space Shuttle, which last flew in July 2011.
The weekend launch had no crew on board as it was a test mission called Demo-1, but it was an important milestone. This is a first-of-its-kind test of a commercially built crewed vehicle to the ISS. The capsule connected to the space station after 18 orbits of Earth. It was attached to the ISS at 5:51am EST on Sunday after having left Cape Canaveral in the early hours of Saturday.
“Today’s successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a press statement on Saturday.
“I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s space history. This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”
The capsule uses new sensor systems, a new propulsion system, and the new international docking mechanism that was installed on the ISS in August 2016 but had not been used since. While there was no crew on board, the mission did have a passenger, a test dummy nicknamed Ripley, who recorded valuable data for engineers and scientists at NASA and SpaceX.
The mission delivered 180 kilograms (400 pounds) of supplies to the ISS and will be bringing important research samples back to Earth. When fully operating the spacecraft is expected to take four astronauts and carry over 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cargo to space.
Elon Musk, CEO and lead designer at SpaceX, expressed gratitude to all those involved, especially NASA.
“First a note of appreciation to the SpaceX team. It has been 17 years to get to this point, 2002 to now, and an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people that got us to this point," he said. "I’d also like to express great appreciation for NASA. SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start.”
The Crew Dragon will remain docked for only five days. Early Friday morning it will detach and begin its descent to Earth.