America's newest crew capsule rockets toward space station

Mindy Sparks
March 6, 2019

The successful voyage of SpaceX's unmanned Crew Dragon to the International Space Station this weekend put the USA one tantalizing step closer to the day when American rockets will again ferry the nation's astronauts into space.

SpaceX needs to nail the debut of its crew Dragon capsule before putting people on board later this year. But that quickly changed once the hatch swung open and the space station astronauts floated inside.

SpaceX already has made 16 trips to the space station using cargo Dragons. TV cameras on Dragon as well as the station provided stunning views of one another throughout the rendezvous.

The space station's three-member crew was expected to greet the capsule, carrying 400 pounds (181 kg) of supplies and test equipment, early Sunday morning, NASA said. The astronauts wore oxygen masks and hoods until getting the all-clear.

"This mission puts us a step closer toward re-establishing American access of American astronauts, on American rockets, from American soil to the ISS for the first time since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011".

Both astronauts due to make that journey, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, watched the automatic docking from mission control in Hawthorne, California.

Mr Bridenstine said he is confident that astronauts will soar on a Dragon or Starliner - or both - by the year's end. 'Just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight'.

A Falcon rocket blasted off with the Crew Dragon capsule from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

As the capsule closed in on the space station, its nose cap was wide open like a dragon's mouth to expose the docking mechanism. The Crew Dragon capsule docked with the ISS on Sunday.

The white, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule, developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX company under contract to NASA, closed in on the orbiting station almost 260 miles above the Pacific Ocean and, flying autonomously, linked up on its own, without the help of the robotic arm normally used to guide spacecraft into position. The test dummy was nicknamed Ripley after the main character in the "Alien" movies.

It will spend five days docked to the orbiting outpost, before making a retro-style splashdown in the Atlantic next Friday - all vital training for the next space demo, possibly this summer, when two astronauts strap in.

Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses, and to monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems throughout the flight.

SpaceX may get there first, in July based on how the test schedules are shaping up, with Boeing following just a few weeks later. If all goes well, Boeing would then have a launch-pad abort test no earlier than May and a crewed flight test no earlier than August.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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