SpaceX capsule docks with space station in test mission

SpaceX has succesfully completed autonomous docking of the ISS with their Crew Dragon vehicle

A interior view of the SpaceX DM-1 Crew Dragon spacecraft moments before launch | Image credit SpaceX

NASA has relied on Russian Federation to ferry its astronauts to the space station since the USA space shuttle program ended in 2011, after a 30-year run. In SpaceX's case, NASA has agreed to pay $2.6 billion for six round trips.

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.

After launch, the Falcon 9 rocket booster used to deliver the craft to space returned and was recovered by the SpaceX drone ship called "Of Course I Still Love You". Mythical beast will disengage itself from the space station next Friday and sprinkle down in the Atlantic Ocean, its plummet hindered by four parachutes.

Roscosmos Executive Director for Manned Programs Sergei Krikalyov earlier told TASS that the Crew Dragon should undergo tests and comply with safety and reliability requirements before Russian cosmonauts can travel aboard it.

The launch was the first that involved a privately built and operated craft heading to the station and was the inaugural test of the SpaceX craft. Named after Sigourney Weaver's character in Alien, Ripley will assess and document conditions from within the capsule in preparation for SpaceX's second mission; one which will include NASA astronauts on board, according to SpaceX.

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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. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat. Boeing has similar uncrewed and crewed test flights planned for April and August, respectively, for their own certification tests. America's newest capsule for astronauts rocketed Saturday toward the International Space Station on a high-stakes test flight by SpaceX.

American astronaut Anne C. McClain looks through the hatch into the SpaceX Dragon capsule from the space station.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine tweeted his congratulations on "this historic achievement", which brings the United States one big step closer to again flying astronauts into space on American rockets.

SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk: "SpaceX would not be here without NASA - without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started, and without the support after SpaceX did start".

At the post-launch press conference on Saturday, he reiterated his dream for a permanent Moon base - and sending people to Mars.

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