SpaceX Crew Dragon Docks With ISS

SpaceX Crew Dragon Docks With ISS

In another major step towards resuming launches of American astronauts from American soil, SpaceX’s Demo-1 Crew Dragon successfully docked with the International Space Station (ISS) this morning just before 6:00 am ET.  No one is aboard this test flight, but it is a critical milestone towards that goal.  The autonomous docking, monitored by astronauts on the ISS and engineers on the ground, went off without a hitch.  The ISS crew entered the spacecraft about two hours later.

SpaceX has delivered cargo to the ISS using a different version of the Dragon spacecraft since 2012, but this is the first time the spacecraft docked rather than berthed with the space station.

During the berthing operation, Dragon maneuvers close to ISS and stops.  Astronauts then capture it using the robotic Canadarm2. It is later installed onto a docking port by ground commands.

This time, Crew Dragon had to use its own propulsion and navigation systems to guide it into the docking port.  The official docking time was 5:51 am ET.  That is the time for soft dock.  Hard dock, after 12 docking hooks latched into place, took about another 10 minutes.

View of Crew Dragon from inside the International Space Station after successful docking, March 3, 2019. Demo-1 test flight. Screengrab from NASA TV.

Three crew members are aboard the ISS:  NASA’s Anne McClain, Canada’s David Saint-Jacques, and Russia’s Oleg Kononenko, who is currently commander of the facility.  McClain and Saint-Jacques monitored the docking and opened the ISS hatch soon thereafter to begin preparation for opening the Crew Dragon’s hatch after performing a variety of tests.

Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques in front of ISS hatch leading to Crew Dragon , March 3, 2019. Screengrab from NASA TV.

The hatch was opened into Crew Dragon at 8:07 am ET.  Saint-Jacques and Kononenko were the first to enter, wearing masks as is standard procedure until the air can be tested to ensure no noxious elements are present.  They were greeted by SpaceX’s Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD), named Ripley after Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien, strapped into the far couch in this image, and a blue Earth plushy toy used as a zero-g indicator, resting at the bottom of the middle couch.

ISS crew members David Saint-Jacques (Canada) and Oleg Kononenko (Russia) wearing protective masks enter the Crew Dragon spacecraft after hatch opening at 8:07 am ET March 3, 2019. Ripley, SpaceX’s instrumented Anthropomorphic Test Device (ATD) is on the far couch and the blue Earth plushy used as a zero-g indicator is on the footrest of the middle couch.  Screengrab from NASA TV.

ISS Commander Kononenko led a welcoming ceremony at 10:35 am ET to formally inaugurate what McClain called a “new era in spaceflight” as she posed in the Crew Dragon capsule alongside Ripley and the Earth plushy zero-g indicator.

The Demo-1 Crew Dragon launched from Kennedy Space Center yesterday morning. If all goes according to plan, it will undock from ISS on Friday and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.  NASA TV will cover hatch closing beginning at 12:15 am ET, undocking at 2:30 am ET, and deorbit and splash down at 7:30 am ET.  A post-landing press conference is scheduled thereafter.

Crew Dragon is one of two systems NASA is acquiring through public-private partnerships to regain the ability to launch American astronauts from American soil on American rockets, the program’s informal slogan. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is the other.  Its uncrewed test launch is scheduled for no earlier than April.  The uncrewed test launches will be followed by crewed test launches this summer and then operational flights.

The United States has not been able to launch anyone to the ISS since the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011.  It pays Russia for crew transportation services.


This article has been updated several times as events took place.

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