SpaceX′s Dragon capsule docks at the International Space Station | News | DW | 03.03.2019
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SpaceX's Dragon capsule docks at the International Space Station

SpaceX has successfully docked an unmanned astronaut capsule to the International Space Station. It was a big test for the SpaceX program, which aims to give NASA a second option for sending astronauts to space.

A spacecraft built by Elon Musk's spacecraft manufacturer SpaceX successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, in the second stage of a critical test of the private company's technology.

The capsule, named Dragon, gradually climbed toward the ISS, which is orbiting the Earth at a distance of around 400 kilometers (248 miles) and a speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour.

The capsule was only carrying a life-sized dummy named Ripley. NASA plans to test the capsule again in July with two astronauts.

Ending reliance on Russia

SpaceX is aiming to resume manned spaceflights from US soil after an eight-year break, and provide NASA with a second option to get astronauts to the ISS.

After the shuttle program was shut down in July 2011 following a 30-year run, NASA began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions.

Currently, NASA relies on the Russian space program and its Soyuz spacecraft to shuttle astronauts to the ISS research facility. It pays Russia $82 million (€72 million) per person for a return trip to the ISS.

The crewless mission, called Demo-1, is SpaceX's chance to show it can build a spaceship that can carry humans.

Its missions so far have involved shuttling cargo to the ISS, but the company, headed by Elon Musk, has had the goal of transporting astronauts into space since he founded SpaceX in 2002.

The target date for SpaceX to fly NASA astronauts to the ISS has been set for July, but this could be delayed.

'A new era in space flight'

"I'm a little emotionally exhausted," Musk said in a post-launch press conference. "It's super-stressful, but it worked, so far."

"It's been 17 years, we still haven't launched anyone yet, but hopefully we will later this year," Musk added.

Jim Bridenstine, head of the US space agency, said it "represents a new era in space flight."

"As a country, we're looking forward to being one customer of many customers, in a robust commercial marketplace in low Earth orbit, so that we can drive down costs and increase access in ways that historically have not been possible," he said.

Astronauts on the ISS were due to open the hatch at 1430 UTC and hold a welcome ceremony about two hours later. The capsule is scheduled to return to Earth next Friday.

law/jlw (AFP, dpa)

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