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NASA and SpaceX craft docks with International Space Station

The rocket launched into space by NASA and SpaceX on Saturday afternoon has docked with the International Space Station.

The historic mission saw the astronauts launched from US soil for the first time in almost a decade.

US astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, and were accelerated to approximately 17,000mph (27,000kmph) – 22 times the speed of sound – on an intercept course with the ISS.

The two US astronauts dock with the International Space Station. Pic: SpaceX
Image: The two US astronauts dock with the International Space Station. Pic: SpaceX
An image shows the ISS and the Crew Dragon locking together after the soft docking. Pic: SpaceX
Image: An image shows the ISS and the Crew Dragon locking together after the soft docking. Pic: SpaceX

They orbited the Earth for roughly 19 hours before docking on Sunday.

The pair said they had an “excellent evening”, managing to fit in some hours for sleeping before their arrival.

Behnken said: “We did get probably a good seven hours or so of opportunity for sleep and I did succeed at sleep and Doug did as well.

“The first night is always a bit of a challenge but the Dragon was a sleek vehicle and we had good airflow. So we had an excellent evening.”

More from Nasa

A few hours before docking, the Crew Dragon riders reported the capsule was performing well.

The two astronauts took over the controls and did some piloting less than a couple hundred yards out as part of the test flight.

They then put it back into automatic controlling for the final approach. Hurley said the capsule handled “really well, very crisp”.

It successfully soft docked at 3.17pm – where the rocket and the ISS first locked together – before docking completely at 3.30pm. Once they landed, the duo thanked the SpaceX team for their hard work and praised NASA.

Mr Hurley said: “It’s been a real honour to be just a small part of this nine-year endeavour since the last time a United States spaceship has docked with the International Space Station.

“This is an incredible time to be at NASA. We thank you again and congratulate you.”

Shortly after the bell rang on the space station to mark the arrival of the Crew Dragon capsule, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who is aboard the ISS, said: “Dragon arriving.

“The crew of Expedition 63 is honoured to welcome the Dragon and the Commercial Crew Programme.”

He added: “Bob and Doug, glad to have you as part of the crew.”

Mr Behnken said: “Happy to be aboard.”

British astronaut Tim Peake, who previously was blasted into space in December 2015 for Expeditions 46 and 47 on the ISS, congratulated the duo and the aerospace companies for their success so far.

He tweeted: “Another milestone in the history of human spaceflight. Congratulations @SpaceX and welcome to the @Space_Station @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug.”

NASA has yet to decide how long Hurley and Behnken will spend at the space station, however it will be somewhere between one and four months.

While they’re there, the Dragon test pilots have joined Nasa’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner to become members of the Expedition 63 crew.

Hurley and Behnken will perform experiments, possibly spacewalks and install fresh station batteries.

They will also be putting the Dragon capsule – which they’ve since named Endeavour after the Space Shuttle Endeavour – to the test.

Behnken said: “Endeavour is going to get a lot of checkout over the next week or two here and hopefully we will be able to declare her operational.

“Doug and I will be able to take some burden off Chris and his crew mates Ivan and Anatoli, so that we can keep the space station operating at a peak possibility.

“So we are looking forward to contributing any way that we can and, like I said, trying to keep [the] space station as productive as possible.”

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 30, 2020. - NASA astronauts Hurley and Bob Behnken are set to depart for an extended stay at the International Space Station on the SpaceX Demo-2 mission. (Photo by Gregg Newton / AFP) (Photo by GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft lifts off from launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday

The launch, named Demo-2, was the first manned mission for Elon Musk‘s spaceflight company SpaceX – and the first private involvement in taking astronauts to the ISS.

It had initially been scheduled for Wednesday but that launch was postponed just minutes before lift-off due to lightning risks.

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On Saturday, the launch went off without a hitch and crowds could be heard cheering in jubilation after the rocket took to the skies.

The capsule could lead NASA to fully certify the company for manned launches, should its return to Earth be completed without any issues.

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