The three-person crew on the International Space Station gave a warm welcome to SpaceX's first Crew Dragon spacecraft (and its mock astronaut "Ripley") today to mark a flawless arrival by America's newest spaceship.
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 U.S. soil since NASA's space shuttle Atlantis in 2011. Crew Dragon docked with the space station at 5:51 a.m. EST (1051 GMT), approximately 27 hours after it lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
After the Crew Dragon autonomously docked at the Harmony module, Expedition 58 crewmembers — NASA astronaut Anne McClain, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko — opened the hatch to the spacecraft at 8:07 a.m. EST (1307 GMT).
Along with a sensor-packed dummy astronaut named Ripley, the Crew Dragon brought along a Celestial Buddies Earth plush to serve as a "zero-g indicator" and more than 400 lbs. (180 kilograms) of supplies for the Expedition 58 crew.
"Ripley and Earth both look like they enjoyed their trip up here,” McClain told mission control as the astronauts worked to open the hatch.
Saint-Jacques and Kononenko were the first to enter the Crew Dragon after opening the hatch. As a safety precaution, the two wore gas masks as they carried instruments in there to conduct some atmospheric readings. Once they determined that the air inside the Crew Dragon was safe, they swung the door open and allowed it to mix with the air inside the space station.
"This is just an incredible sight for the SpaceX team to see the ISS crewmembers inside the capsule," SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio said during a live webcast of the hatch opening.
While working to unload some of the cargo beneath the seats inside the Crew Dragon, Saint-Jacques gave the "zero-g indicator" a bump that sent it tumbling around the inside of the spacecraft.
"Can you tell we're in microgravity?” NASA TV commentator Dan Huot joked during the webcast. "It's been indicated," Praderio replied.
About five hours after the Crew Dragon docked at the space station, the Expedition 58 crew held a formal welcoming ceremony in which they commended the achievement of NASA's commercial crew program and gave a live video tour of the new addition to their home.
"This is a good day — first day of a new era for the next generation of space explorer," Saint-Jacques said during a live broadcast of the welcoming ceremony. "Our sincere congratulations to all Earthlings who have enabled the opening of this next chapter in space exploration,” McClain added.
The Crew Dragon will spend about five days docked at the space station before heading back to Earth for the final phase of its first test flight. It is scheduled to splash down in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday (March 8) at 8:45 a.m. EST (1345 GMT) after a parachute-assisted descent. You can watch the undocking, deorbit burn and splashdown coverage live here at Space.com beginning at 2 a.m. EST (0700 GMT).
If the Crew Dragon's return goes as smoothly as its launch and docking did, SpaceX plans to start launching live, human astronauts to the International Space Station this summer.
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- SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch Heralds 'New Era in Spaceflight,' NASA Chief Says
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Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos.