Astronauts Welcome SpaceX's Crew Dragon to Space Station (Ripley and Earth, Too!)

The SpaceX team in Hawthorne Calif. celebrates as the company's Crew Dragon capsule successfully docks with the International Space Station

In order to certify Crew Dragon to carry humans, NASA and SpaceX will complete a series of four test flights, of which Demo-1 is the second.

If all goes well, SpaceX could taxi two astronauts as early as this summer.

Crew Dragon next fired its thrusters to begin an approach initiation burn, which brought it inside the approach ellipsoid, a 4-by-2-kilometer egg-shaped zone surrounding the station.

Kirk Shireman, the manager of Nasa's International Space Station programme, said: "You'll hear us talk about this being a flight test; it absolutely is".

The successful demonstration brings the US one step closer to once again sending people into orbit without relying on Russian space vehicles, which have ferried American astronauts to the International Space Station since NASA retired its shuttles in 2011.

The entire procedure was light on showmanship compared to SpaceX's last major flight test, when the company launched a red Tesla into space on its Falcon Heavy rocket.

After docking to the station, Dragon's hatch will be opened, and the station crew will board the spacecraft to perform inspections.

This photo provided by SpaceX shows a test dummy in the new Dragon capsule designed for astronauts.

"Today's successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a statement.

This is the phase of the mission that SpaceX founder Elon Musk says worries him the most - the fiery, high-speed descent through the atmosphere.

Saint-Jacques and Kononenko were the first to enter the Crew Dragon after opening the hatch. They rushed there from Florida after watching the Dragon rocket into orbit early Saturday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"Welcome to the new era in space flight", McClain said from inside the capsule, framed by Ripley and Little Earth. But the program has suffered delays as safety requirements are much more stringent for manned flights than for unmanned missions to deploy satellites.

During the rendezvous, Dragon went through numerous milestones, first coming into view at around 3,000 meters out, before approaching towards the Approach Elipsode and arrive at Waypoint 0. It's had to pay to use Russian Soyuz vehicles instead.

Ripley and the capsule are rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses and monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems.

"SpaceX and NASA teams are working side-by-side on this mission from start to finish as we have throughout this process". In the meantime, NASA is paying two companies - SpaceX and Boeing - to build and operate America's next generation of rocket ships.

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