CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A shiny new SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the company's Crew-3 mission docked successfully at the orbiting lab Thursday evening (Nov. 11).
The Crew Dragon Endurance, which launched SpaceX's four crewed flight for NASA on Wednesday (Nov. 10), linked up with the station's U.S.-built Harmony module at 6:32 p.m. EST (2332 GMT) as both spacecraft sailed 263 miles (423 kilometers) above Eastern Caribbean.
The spacecraft launched from pad 39A here at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida less than 24 hours prior, following a series of delays due to poor weather along the rocket's flight path as well as a minor medical issue that popped up with one of the crew members.
"Capture confirmed," NASA's Courtney Beasley said during a live broadcast. "Contact confirmed at 3:32 p.m. Pacific Time as the International Space Station and Endurance were flying above the Caribbean."
Arriving at the ISS on Endurance today was a crew of mostly rookie space flyers: NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, along with European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer. (Marshburn is the only member of the crew that has flown in space before.)
The four astronauts arrived safely at the station about 22 hours after their successful launch, ready to begin their mission in space. They're expected to open the hatches between their Crew Dragon and the station at 8:10 p.m. EST (0110 Nov. 12 GMT).
"Crew Dragon has officially made it to the ISS," Beasley said.
Despite being grounded longer than expected, the Crew's launch on Wednesday night was picture-perfect, with officials at both SpaceX and NASA saying that it was one of the quietest loops yet, meaning that there were no issues being working throughout the countdown.
During a video tour of the Dragon Endurance spacecraft, which the Crew shared on Thursday morning, Marshburn said that all of his rookie crewmembers were adjusting to space well and had a hearty appetite, something that isn't necessarily the case on every spaceflight.
Endurance arrived at the station 38 minutes ahead of schedule. The approach and docking sequence ran smoothly with only a short hold at waypoint 2, roughly 20 meters (66 feet) from its docking port, while the teams waited for better lighting conditions to dock with ISS.
After a successful docking, the three-person crew of Expedition 66 — including NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov — will meet the new station residents, helping them aboard. With the launch delays, NASA opted to bring the four Crew-2 astronauts home before launching the Crew-3 mission, leaving Vande Hei in charge of orienting the new residents with the space station.
NASA calls this procedure an indirect handoff, and it usually involves helping the arriving crew get used to the essentials in space, like where they will sleep and using the toilet. Those housekeeping responsibilities are usually left to the departing crew, but since they came home early, Vande Hei will fill in.
"Docking complete, welcome to the International Space Station," SpaceX mission controllers radioed to the crew.
"Endurance copies, and happy to be here at the ISS," Marshburn said on behalf of the crew.
With the Crew-3 arrival, it brings the total number of people onboard the ISS to seven, with five in the U.S. segment of the space station and two on the Russian side.
The four new residents of the orbiting outpost will spend the next six months working and living in space. They will work on more than 200 science experiments and conduct spacewalks during their time at the station, which orbits an average of 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.
SpaceX's next crewed mission to the space station will be Crew-4, which is currently set to lift off in April of 2022.