Around 11pm ET Monday (6am Tuesday South Africa) the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft docked safely with the International Space Station (ISS).
Travelling at more than 17,000miles per hour (27 360 km/h), the spacecraft edged toward ISS, closing the gap before latching onto a port on the ISS’s centre module. This speed is necessary to keep objects in Earth orbit, but to observers watching this event seemed slow.
Astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker with NASA, and Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut with Japan’s space agency, emerged beaming from the capsule about two hours later after a series of checks were performed to ensure that the spacecraft and the ISS had an air-tight seal. They had been in the Crew Dragon capsule for roughly more than 30 hours.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russia’s Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, who are already onboard the ISS hugged the new arrivals as they entered. They arrived last month on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s head of human spaceflight, radioed in to speak to the crew shortly after arrival.
The safe docking marks the end of the first leg of a landmark mission for NASA and SpaceX, whio have been working together for a decade to return human spaceflight capabilities to the United States and ensure the multibillion-dollar ISS stays fully staffed.
According to NASA, in 2009, the maximum number of astronauts on ISS were as many as 13, but this number has dropped to as low as three at times. This leaves fewer people to help run experiments and help keep the space station well maintained.
SpaceX second visit to ISS
This also marks the first fully operational crewed mission for SpaceX, following up a test mission in May that carried NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, both test pilots, to the space station for a brief stay.
Glover’s inclusion in this mission, called Crew-1, has its own historic significance. Though more than a dozen Black Americans have traveled to space since Guion Bluford became the first to do so in 1983, Glover will be the first to become a full -time crew member on the ISS. This also marks Glover’s first-ever trip to space.
During a brief dispatch between mission control and the astronauts Monday afternoon, mission commander Hopkins asked ground control operators if they could see Glover smiling “because it (he) hasn’t stopped since we’ve been up here.”
Earlier on Monday, Hopkins also gave Glover his diamond-studded, golden astronaut pin, featuring the golden emblem, (a star with three contrails surrounded by a halo), which is awarded to all NASA astronauts who have travelled to space.
The Crew-1 astronauts are expected to spend about six months on board the ISS, where they’ll work on a variety of science experiments and conduct space walks to continue updates and repairs on the space station’s exterior.
Before returning home, they’ll be joined by yet another group of astronauts on a mission dubbed Crew-2 that’s due to launch in the spring.