NASA astronauts enter space station after historic SpaceX docking
May 31, 2020
— For the past nine years, all of the crew members who came aboard the International Space Station, did so through the Russian side of the orbiting laboratory.
That changed on Sunday (May 31), when two NASA astronauts floated into the U.S. segment from aboard a U.S. commercial spacecraft that had launched the day before from the United States.
"It was nice to see a vehicle come to the forward portion of the space station, but I'll tell you what, that's the only way Doug and I know how to do it," said Bob Behnken, who with Doug Hurley rode SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Endeavour" to a docking with the forward-facing port on the space station's Harmony module.
It was the first time that a U.S. spacecraft had used the port since the end of the space shuttle program in July 2011. Both Behnken and Hurley previously flew to the space station on the shuttle — Hurley on the last mission to do so.
"Just about exactly nine years ago, we docked with Atlantis on STS-135, the last flight of the space shuttle program, a 30-year program," said Hurley. "And the folks at SpaceX, the folks at NASA and the Commercial Crew Program put their heads together and worked diligently, year after year, making sacrifices and working hard. Then, nine years later, America's launch capability was restored. And this is just one effort that we can show for the ages."
The autonomous docking, another first for a U.S. crewed vehicle, came 18 hours, 58 minutes and 42 seconds after Behnken and Hurley launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday. Over the course of the nearly 19-hour rendezvous, the astronauts filmed two tours of their spacecraft, ate meals, slept and had the chance to twice take over from the Dragon's computers and fly the vehicle manually using its touchscreen displays.
"It flew just about like the sim[ulator], so my congratulations to the folks at Hawthorne," said Hurley, referring to SpaceX's headquarters in California. "It flew really well, very crisp."
"We couldn't be happier about the performance of the vehicle," he said.
"I only had to twist Doug's arm for two or three minutes to get him to allow me to deactivate the piloting controls," said Behnken after the second demonstration.
The Dragon slowly made the final approach to the station, firing its Draco thrusters to refine its path. The spacecraft achieved a soft docking at 10:16 a.m. EDT (1416 GMT) while flying about 260 miles (420 km) over the northern border of China and Mongolia.
Twelve hooks were then mechanically driven for a hard capture nine minutes later.
"Dragon arriving," announced NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, the space station's commander and a former Navy SEAL, after he rang the ship's bell. "The crew of Expedition 63 is honored to welcome Dragon and the Commercial Crew Program aboard the International Space Station. Bob and Doug glad to have you as part of the crew. Well done. Bravo Zulu."
Congratulations were exchanged between the Dragon's Demo-2 mission crew, NASA's mission control in Houston and the SpaceX team in Hawthorne.
"We here at SpaceX have been honored to be part of ushering in this new era of spaceflight," said Anna Menon, SpaceX's CORE (or Crew Operations Responsible Engineer) from the company's control room. "On behalf of the SpaceX and NASA partnership, congratulations on a phenomenal accomplishment and welcome to the International Space Station."
Hurley and Behnken are expected to spend the new few months as members of the station's crew, assisting Cassidy and his two flight engineers, cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Wagner, both of Roscosmos. NASA has yet to schedule Behnken's and Hurley's return date, choosing to wait to see how the Dragon performs and how far along the next SpaceX spacecraft is to being ready to fly.
"We're just really glad to be aboard this magnificent complex," said Hurley.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon "Endeavour" is seen, partially obscured, after docking to the International Space Station on Sunday, May 31, 2020, almost 19 hours after its launch. (Roscosmos/Ivan Wagner)
Expedition 63 crewmates Anatoli Ivanishin, Chris Cassidy and Ivan Wagner are joined by SpaceX Demo-2 astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board the International Space Station, Sunday, May 31, 2020. (Roscosmos/Ivan Wagner)
Over the shoulder view of Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and the touchscreen controls on board SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft during docking to the International Space Station. (SpaceX/NASA)