Astronauts Successfully Dock at International Space Station After Historic SpaceX Launch
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station on Sunday morning
On Sunday, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53, arrived at the International Space Station after taking off the day prior in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA shared multiple videos on Twitter of Behnken and Hurley's arrival, which kicked off with them receiving hugs from the other astronauts in space.
"It's obviously been our honor to just be a small part of this," Hurley said. "We have to give credit to SpaceX, the commercial crew program, and of course NASA. It's great to get the United States back in the crew launch business and we're just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex."
In another video, Hurley said, "We're just happy to be here and Chris is gonna put us to work and hopefully we will fit in and not mess too many things up."
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine applauded Behnken and Hurley, and asked them if they were able to sleep during their historic 19-hour trip.
"We did get probably a good seven hours or so," Behnken said. "I did succeed at sleep and Doug did as well. The first night is always a little bit of a challenge but the Dragon is a slick vehicle and we had good airflow so we had an excellent evening and just excited to be back in lower Earth orbit again."
Behnken and Hurley's endeavor is being celebrated as the first flight of American astronauts on American-made rockets from U.S. soil after the last Space Shuttle mission in July 2011.
"Yesterday and today, you’ve inspired the Artemis generation, which is our next generation. And that’s what this is about," NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard told the pair. "It's really bringing the children that we've got and our grandchildren forward so that they're the ones going into deep space."
"This is the dawn of a new era," Morhard added. "And we just thank you for being at the beginning of it."
"It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business. We'll talk to you from orbit," Hurley said before takeoff.
The space vehicle took off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket, with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence watching from Kennedy Space Center.
Compared to the old Space Shuttle launches, attendance was otherwise limited due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many Floridians watched from nearby beaches, and people could also view a public live-stream.
The launch is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and “will provide data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations,” NASA said. It must complete the trip before it can be certified by the program.
It remains to be seen when the crew will return to Earth and touch down off the Atlantic Coast near Florida. The craft used for the test flight can stay in orbit for about 110 days, but its return is dependent upon when the next commercial crew launch will be ready.