CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A sleek new American-built capsule with just a test dummy aboard docked smoothly with the International Space Station on Sunday in a big step toward putting the U.S. back in the business of launching astronauts.
The white, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule, developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company under contract to NASA, closed in on the orbiting station nearly 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.
Dragon is the first American-made spacecraft capable of carrying a crew to pull up to the space station in eight years. If this six-day test flight goes well, a Dragon capsule could take two NASA astronauts to the orbiting outpost this summer.
“A new generation of space flight starts now with the arrival of @SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the @Space-Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted. “Congratulations to all for this historic achievement getting us closer to flying American Astronauts on American rockets.”
Ever since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been hitching rides to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. In the meantime, NASA is paying two companies – SpaceX and Boeing – to build and operate its next generation of rocket ships.
SpaceX’s 27-foot-long capsule rocketed into orbit early Saturday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with an instrumented mannequin strapped into one of its four seats in a dashing, white-and-black, form-fitting SpaceX spacesuit. The test dummy was nicknamed Ripley after the main character in the “Alien” movies.
Ripley and the capsule are rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses and monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems.
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.
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