- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Four astronauts aboard the SpaceX’s Dragon capsule arrived late Monday at the International Space Station, where they will stay for six months — marking what could be the start of commercial space travel.

The spacecraft, named Resilience, docked at 11:01 p.m. Eastern on Monday after a 27-hour, fully automated flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The capsule delivered NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi. They will be part of the station’s crew until April, when their replacements arrive on another Dragon capsule.

The goal for SpaceX, and later Boeing, is to regularly transport astronauts to and from the space station for NASA.

“What an amazing last couple of days … This mission was a dream, a dream of us to be able to one day be able to have crew transportation services to the International Space Station, and today that dream became a reality,” Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said Tuesday morning during a press conference. “It’s the start of a new era.”

The Dragon capsule carrying the four astronauts had launched at 7:27 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, the second mission for SpaceX but the longest station stay for astronauts ferried by Elon Musk’s company. The first SpaceX mission was a two-pilot test flight completed in May that lasted two months.

The four astronauts are joining two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan. A video tweeted by NASA showed the space station crew cheering as they welcomed the newly arrived astronauts, hugging them as they floated through an open hatch.

“It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s really amazing that this is marking the start of operational crew rotation missions to the International Space Station from the Florida coast,” said Mr. Hopkins, the Dragon’s commander, after the astronauts boarded the station. “It was an amazing ride. I can’t tell you how excited we were when that rocket lifted off the pad and then the last 27 hours have gone really smooth actually.

“We are so excited to be here. We are humbled and we are excited to be part of this great expedition. We are looking forward to the next six months,” he said.

The arrival of the Dragon Resilience is the first of six crew missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as a part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

The Resilience crew’s stay at the orbiting lab is scheduled to be the longest human space mission launched from the U.S., according to NASA. The Dragon spacecraft is able to stay in orbit for at least 210 days and delivered more than 500 pounds of cargo and new science hardware and experiments.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday launched the Dragon spacecraft, which dropped into orbit in about 12 minutes. During flight, SpaceX commands the spacecraft from its control center in Hawthorne, California, while NASA teams monitor space station operations from its space center in Houston.

Through the Commercial Crew Program, NASA partners with SpaceX and Boeing to build spacecraft to ferry humans to and from space. According to National Geographic, the private companies keep ownership and control of the spacecraft once they are built, but send astronauts into space for NASA at a “fraction of the cost” for a flight on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

The Dragon has completed 22 flights to and from the space station, according to SpaceX.

“It was designed from the beginning with human spaceflight in mind — even the first cargo Dragon had a window,” the company tweeted.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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