At 04:01 on Tuesday morning, while the International Space Station was flying over Idaho at over 15,000 miles a hour (neatly 5 miles a second!), one kind of history was being made. The SpaceX Dragon capsule maneuvered into attachment with the station, delivering four astronauts and becoming the first commercial transport to bring crew into outer space. (Crew and one baby Yoda toy, the internet was thrilled to learn. Photos of it floating about in the capsule went viral before they were even docked.)
The Dragon capsule and its passengers were launched into space on Monday by the Falcon Rocket, also a SpaceX vehicle under the aegis of billionaire Elon Musk. They have a contract with NASA for five more crew rotations after this one, replacing the Russian Soyuz series, which has been performing taxi operations for the station for the past few decade.
“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,” radioed back astronaut Commander Mike Hopkins after disembarking the Dragon into the ISS. “We are so excited to be here. We are humbled and we are excited to be a part of this great expedition. And we are looking forward to the next six months and can’t wait to get started.”
Hopkins and his three fellow test passengers – Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Soichi Noguchi – are joining the ISS’s current crew of three, which consists of Kate Rubins, Sergey Ryzhikov, and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov. Together and separately, they are all there with large itineraries of micro-gravity experiments that can only be performed on the station, isolated 254 miles above the Earth.
SpaceX is the first to get their transport plans up and running, but Boeing is hot on their heels. Boeing’s Starliner Capsule is also planning a visit to the ISS within the next six months, if all goes well.