SpaceX's Crew Dragon Successfully Docks At International Space Station

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In this image taken from NASA Television, Sunday, March 3, 2019. This test flight without crew on board the spacecraft is meant to demonstrate SpaceX's capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

No one was aboard the Dragon capsule launched Saturday on its first test flight, only an instrumented dummy.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is the first commercially built and operated American spacecraft designed for human passengers to dock at the space station.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon - the first crew-capable spacecraft the company has ever produced - is about to be tested in a big way.

This test flight didn't include crew - except for a high tech mannequin named "Ripley" - but it was meant to go through all the procedures of a crewed mission. GNC system performance must be demonstrated during ascent, on-orbit operations, and reentry.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon Demo-1 mission took place at 2:49 a.m. EST (07:49 GMT).

Dragon first stabilized seven kilometers behind the ISS, and 2.5 kilometers below it.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk said, "To be frank, I'm a little emotionally exhausted".

Dragon 2 will be the first SpaceX vehicle to attempt an autonomous docking in orbit. It docked autonomously under the station astronauts' watchful eyes, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for berthing.

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SpaceX aims to launch Behnken and Hurley as early as July. Crew now aboard the ISS completed a checkout of the docking port in advance of Saturday's launch, and verified the docking system was "go" for docking.

The maneuver also included a series of safety tests, with Crew Dragon first hovering near the docking port, backing away and approaching slowly to ensure it could perform each of those actions in the case of an emergency.

For its part, Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, congratulated NASA on the successful Crew Dragon docking. SpaceX's new crew capsule arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday, acing its second milestone in just over a day.

A single action item concerning Dragon's approach to the station was identified during the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) conducted before launch.

With the sun getting low on the horizon as the station passed beneath Australia, Mission Control in Houston opted to wait for more uniform lighting, so Dragon paused until after sunset. Thermal vacuum testing conducted a year ago revealed less than nominal performance within the full thermal environment the Draco thrusters were expected to experience during the Demo-1 mission.

Both SpaceX and Boeing face major technical hurdles with a variety of issues that must be resolved before piloted flights will be approved by NASA. Lessons learned, including the addition of heaters to the thrusters' fuel lines, will allow the removal of those thermal constraints for the Demo-2 mission.

Hours later, crew members are expected to open the capsule's hatch and hold a welcome ceremony for the craft.

After five days at the ISS, the Crew Dragon will return to Earth on March 8 for an aquatic landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

"Our honest congratulations to all earthlings who have enabled the opening of this next chapter in space exploration", NASA astronaut Anne McClain said from aboard the ISS during a welcoming ceremony for the Crew Dragon. "We have to dock to the station".