SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule successfully docks with ISS

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule

The docking was carried out autonomously by the Crew Dragon capsule, as the three astronauts on board the International Space Station watched.

The spacecraft attached to ISS via "soft capture" at 5:51 a.m.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifts off on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, March 2, 2019.

The rocket blasted off without incident at 2:49 am from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, lighting up Florida's coastline.

"The Crew Dragon is a fundamental redesign, with hardly a part in common with Dragon", SpaceX founder Elon Musk said early Saturday morning, after the launch, during a news briefing.

The historic unmanned test flight marks the first time a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket was launched to the ISS.

SpaceX and Boeing are both building crew ferry ships in an $8 billion push by NASA to restore America's ability to launch US and partner astronauts to space in the wake of the space shuttle's retirement in 2011.

Jim Bridenstine, head of the U.S. space agency, has explained NASA wants to reduce costs in low orbit to devote resources to getting back to the Moon and constructing a small space station in lunar orbit in the 2020s.

Since then, NASA has been relying on Russian rockets and space capsules to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station, for a reported cost of $80m per journey.

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United States and European astronauts, including Britain's Tim Peake, have begun their journey into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan. In the meantime, NASA is paying two companies - SpaceX and Boeing - to build and operate America's next generation of rocket ships.

The crew members opened the hatch to Crew Dragon following standard leak checks and pressurization since the spacecraft completed its hard dock to the station at 6:02 a.m., the first autonomous docking of any USA spacecraft to the International Space Station.

The current schedule calls for NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken to take their seats on the next Crew Dragon demonstration flight in July.

"There is nothing more important for us than this endeavour, and we really appreciate the opportunity from Nasa to do this".

The crew also took selfies and videos, including a few shots with Crew Dragon's second passenger, a small, stuffed Earth with limbs and a perplexed facial expression that bounced about the capsule in microgravity.

NASA is also working with Boeing on a test flight of its Starliner capsule, also without a crew, scheduled for this year.

The American space agency is essentially now contracting out crew transport to SpaceX.

"We're going to learn a ton from this mission", said Kathy Lueders, the manager of Nasa's Commercial Crew programme.

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