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NASA astronauts arrive at International Space Station with help from new SpaceX ride

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrive at ISS in SpaceX Crew Dragon

ORLANDO, Fla. – NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken approached their new temporary home in orbit Sunday morning after zipping around Earth to catch up to the International Space Station.

The brand new SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft autonomously docked at the space station port at 10:16 a.m., about 15 minutes early, but first the astronauts tried out some manual moves in the spacecraft to test out their new ride.

The event marked the first time a privately built spacecraft carrying people docked at the ISS. Applause could be heard from SpaceX’s mission control in Hawthorne when the hard capture of Crew Dragon at station was confirmed just before 10:30 a.m.

The docking happened at the ISS was about 200 miles above Earth over China.

“It’s been a real honor to be part of this nine year endeavour since the U.S. docked a spaceship at the International Space Station,” Hurley said with a thumbs up, thanking NASA and SpaceX teams.

Already on board station, NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy was keeping an eye on the new spaceship as it approached the orbiting laboratory. A bell rang on station to officially mark the arrival of the spacecraft.

“Dragon arriving," Cassidy said moments after the bell. “Crew expedition 63 is excited to welcome you aboard the International Space Station.”

The astronauts launched Saturday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A in Florida to the awe of all those watching around the world and on the Space Coast.

[Watch the docking and hatch opening at the top of this story.]

Hurley and Behnken brought along a little stuffed dinosaur named “Tremor” after the toy was selected by their 6 and 10 year old sons to join them on the journey. During a morning check in Sunday, the sparkling dino could be seen in the spacecraft.

“We do have a friend on board with us. We introduced you to Tremor yesterday when we did our little activity with the camera,” Behnken said. “Tremor also had a good nights sleep. I know that both of our sons are pretty happy about that with their pet dinosaur making it into orbit and having a good night in zero gravity.”

The trip to the ISS took less than 19 hours, along the way the astronauts had some time to get to know the new vehicle and announce they had named their spaceship Endeavour.

“Last night, the way things went, we had our normal activation, got out of our suits, had a little bit of dinner, then reconfigured the cabin for orbit ops," Hurley said. "(We) did a couple of other events, including the media event last night, and then we proceeded to get ready for bed, which in space takes a little bit longer than on planet Earth.”

The astronauts slept in their custom made Crew dragon flight chairs. Both astronauts are veterans of the Space Shuttle program with 1,400 hours of spaceflight between them. Both astronauts were complimentary of SpaceX spacecraft and the team behind developing the capsule.

“Doug and I had a good night’s sleep last night," Behnken said. "We were surprised, I think, at how well we actually slept aboard the vehicle. A little bit quieter than Space Shuttle, a little bit more environmentally controlled.”

[MORE COVERAGE: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk officially launched humans to space -- here’s what he’s planning next]

Before a good night’s rest, Hurley got the chance to take Crew Dragon through its paces on a manual ride.

“One of the things we did yesterday was actually manually fly Crew Dragon for the first time, and I want to compliment the teams at Hawthorne," Hurley said referring to SpaceX’s headquarters in California. "Just a spectacular job with the simulator, as the vehicle flew exactly like the simulators out in Hawthorne.”

Crew Dragon a few meters away from docking at the International Space station on May 31, 2020. The spacecraft is the first private vehicle to dock at the ISS carrying people. (Image: NASA/SpaceX)
Crew Dragon a few meters away from docking at the International Space station on May 31, 2020. The spacecraft is the first private vehicle to dock at the ISS carrying people. (Image: NASA/SpaceX) (WKMG 2020)

The astronauts shared some views from the spacecraft and what it was like to fly around the Earth at 1,700 mph as they catch up to the ISS.

“If you look closely in the video, you can see just a sliver of Moon kind of halfway between the surface of the Earth and the window pane," Behnken said.

Overnight, the space station came into view.

“When we were in the night part of the orbit, we actually got to see ISS out the window, which was pretty neat to see it for the first time on this trip,” Behnken said.

After the Crew Dragon auto-docked at the ISS, the hatch to station will open at 2:45 p.m. where Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts will welcome them.

Behnken and Hurley will spend anywhere between one to four months on the International Space Station. The length of their stay in space depends on when the next crew, known as Crew-1, will be ready to fly on another Crew Dragon. NASA is currently targeting Aug. 30 for that launch.

Check back for updates throughout hatch opening.


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