(Update: Adds comments by crew and NASA officials)
Miami, May 31 (efe-epa).- SpaceX’s Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station on Sunday 19 hours after two NASA astronauts rode the module aloft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken become the first astronauts to make the trip aboard a privately funded craft and it was the first low orbit, crewed launch to take place from the United States since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.
SpaceX said in a tweet after the capsule reached the ISS: “Docking confirmed – Crew Dragon has arrived at the space station.”
NASA said: “The Crew Dragon arrived at the station’s Harmony port, docking at 10:16 a.m. EDT while the spacecraft were flying about 262 miles above the northern border of China and Mongolia.”
“Behnken and Hurley made history Saturday as they became the first Americans to launch on an American rocket from American soil to the space station in nearly a decade,” the US space agency added.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are currently on board the ISS.
“It’s been a real honor to be just a small part of this nine-year endeavor since the last time a United States space ship docked with the International Space Station,” said Hurley after the SpaceX capsule docked.
“Bravo on a magnificent moment in spaceflight history, and on the start of a new journey that has changed the face of space travel in this new era of space transportation,” said flight director Zeb Scoville to the crew from Mission Control in Houston.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, also at Mission Control, told Bekhken and Hurley: “Welcome to the space station. I tell you, the whole world saw this mission and we are so, so proud of everything you have done for our country and in fact to inspire the world.”
Hurley said in response “I appreciate that sir. It’s obviously been our honor to be just a small part of this,” adding “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.”
Regarding the space capsule that took the two astronauts aloft to the ISS, Hurley said: “We couldn’t be happier about the performance of the vehicle.”
After the SpaceX launch on Saturday, Bridenstine had tweeted: “For the first time in nine years, we have now launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. I’m so proud of the @NASA and @SpaceX team for making this moment possible.”
The capsule arrived at the space station 10 minutes ahead of schedule after its launch was watched by millions online and by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in person at Cape Canaveral.
Hurley and Behnken tested the craft’s maneuverability for a few minutes about half an hour ahead of docking with the station before putting it back on autopilot for the actual docking maneuver, a very delicate operation which was carefully monitored from ground control.
The approach to the station was the slowest portion of the trip, given that a collision involving the two craft could be potentially disastrous. The Dragon Endeavor, as the capsule has been baptized, approached at a rate of 10 centimeters (4 inches) per second during the final few meters.
The astronauts then equalized the pressure between the two craft and Behnken, followed by Hurley, transferred to the station at 1:22 pm.
The length of the SpaceX Demo-2 mission has not been determined and serves to test the potential of the company founded by Elon Musk to pioneer the commercialization of space exploration.
Behnken and Hurley are expected to spend between six and 16 weeks onboard the station.