SpaceX Dragon capsule delivers NASA astronauts to International Space Station

NASA photo shows astronauts Douglas Hurley (right) and Robert Behnken (second right) at the International Space Station posing with other astronauts on May 31, 2020.
NASA photo shows astronauts Douglas Hurley (right) and Robert Behnken (second right) at the International Space Station posing with other astronauts on May 31, 2020. © AFP

NASA astronauts entered the International Space Station on Sunday after a landmark 19-hour journey on the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade, a triumph for SpaceX and private enterprise.

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The hatch opened shortly after 1pm Eastern Time as NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley carried out final close out procedures, crossing the International Space Station (ISS) threshold about 20 minutes later.

Wearing black polo shirts and khaki pants, Behnken entered first, followed by Hurley. 

They were greeted by fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy, as well as cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all in the blue jumpsuits of the space station, which was launched in 1998 and first inhabited in 2000.

"It's been a real honour to be just a small part of this nine-year endeavor since the last time a United States spaceship has docked with the International Space Station," Hurley said upon a successful "soft-docking".

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke to the crew from mission control in Houston.

"Welcome to Bob and Doug," said Bridenstine. "I will tell you the whole world saw this mission, and we are so so proud of everything you have done for our country."

"It's great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business and we're just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex," replied Hurley, who commanded the Crew Dragon capsule called "Endeavor."

'Dragon was huffing and puffing'

During their stay Behnken and Hurley will continue to perform more checks on Endeavor in order to sign-off on its readiness. 

They will also provide support to the three other crew members on board the ISS.

Hurley added that he hoped the mission would inspire Americans at a time when the world is beset by the coronavirus pandemic.

"This was just one effort that we can show for the ages in this dark time that we've had over the past several months to kind of inspire, especially the young people in the United States, to reach for these lofty goals," he said.

Asked by a lawmaker how the Crew Dragon's handling compared to that of the Space Shuttle, which was shuttered in 2011, Behknen indicated the new ship was a rougher ride.

"Dragon was huffing and puffing all the way into orbit, and we were definitely driving or riding a dragon all the way up," he said. 

"And so it was not quite the same ride, the smooth ride as the Space Shuttle was."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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