SpaceX notches next step in race with Boeing to crewed flights

SpaceX founder Elon Musk shares a laugh with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley center and Bob Behnken in the launch control room at Kennedy Space Center Friday night

SpaceX rocket launches towards the International Space Station

The first American commercially built-and-operated crew spacecraft in eight years docked successfully Sunday at the International Space Station.

After making 18 orbits of Earth since its launch, the spacecraft of USA private spaceflight company SpaceX successfully attached to the ISS via "soft capture" at 5:51 a.m.

An estimated 5,000 NASA and contractor employees, tourists and journalists gathered in the wee hours at Kennedy Space Center with the SpaceX launch team, as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off before dawn from the same spot where Apollo moon rockets and space shuttles once soared.

The uncrewed SpaceX capsule made history earlier this morning (March 3) when it docked at the space station, becoming the first commercial crew vehicle to ever visit the orbiting laboratory and the first to launch into orbit from US soil since NASA's space shuttle Atlantis in 2011.

The mission also marks a significant step toward to the return of human launches to the space station on a US -built spacecraft from USA soil since 2011.

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

BRIDENSTINE: We have another five days before the Dragon releases from the International Space Station and comes home safely. SpaceX has just tweeted the capsule is metres away from its destination.

In addition to carrying Ripley, an anthropomorphic test device outfitted with sensors to provide data about potential effects on future astronauts who will travel in the Crew Dragon.

Early this morning, a spacecraft called Crew Dragon docked at the International Space Station.

'Just super excited to see it, ' said Mr Behnken. In a docking with a crew aboard, the capsule would likewise operate autonomously, though the astronauts might push a button or two and would be able to intervene if necessary.

Nasa is also working with Boeing on crew transport.

"We want to maximise our learning so we can get this stuff ready so that when we put crew on, we're ready to go do a real crew mission, and it'll be the right safety for our crews". Engineers will be carefully watching sound, vibration and other stresses on the spacecraft, while monitoring the life-support, communication and propulsion systems.

Boeing said it expects to test-fly its Starliner capsule next month, with astronauts on board possibly in August. Astronauts have been stuck riding Russian rockets ever since NASA's space shuttle program ended in 2011. Soyuz tickets have skyrocketed over the years; NASA now pays $82 million per seat.

"Welcome to the new era in space flight", McClain said from inside the capsule, framed by Ripley and Little Earth.

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