A sleek new American-built capsule with just a test dummy aboard docked smoothly with the International Space Station on Sunday, bringing the U.S. a big step closer to getting back in the business of launching astronauts.
The white, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule, developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company under contract to NASA, closed in on the orbiting station nearly 260 miles above the Pacific Ocean and, flying autonomously, linked up on its own, without the help of the robotic arm normally used to guide spacecraft into position.
Dragon’s arrival marked the first time in eight years that an American-made spacecraft capable of carrying humans has flown to the space station.
If this six-day test flight goes well, a Dragon capsule could take two NASA astronauts to the orbiting outpost this summer.
“A new generation of space flight starts now with the arrival of @SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the @Space—Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted. “Congratulations to all for this historic achievement getting us closer to flying American Astronauts on American rockets.”
Ever since NASA retired the space shuttle in 2011, the U.S. has been hitching rides to and from the space station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft. In the meantime, NASA is paying two companies — SpaceX and Boeing — to build and operate America’s next generation of rocket ships.