Four astronauts exited the stratosphere and entered history on Monday 16th of November, 2020, becoming the first humans to dock at the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a commercial spacecraft.
That would be Resilience, a CrewDragon shuttle built by SpaceX, the spacecraft company founded by billionaire mogul Elon Musk. The astronauts, known as SpaceX Crew 1, lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday night. After a 27-hour flight through space, Resilience successfully docked with the International Space Station around 11:01 p.m. EST Monday.
Two hours later, the ISS team opened the hatch between the space station and Resilience, welcoming aboard NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. SpaceX Crew 1 was welcomed with hugs and cheers by those already aboard the ISS, namely Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA’s Kate Rubins.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Hopkins told mission control upon entrance to the ISS. “I can’t tell you how excited we were when that rocket lifted off the pad and then the last 27 hours have gone really smooth, actually. And we are so excited to be here.”
The voyage of Resilience marks a variety of historic milestones. For one, it is the first commercial spacecraft to carry astronauts to the ISS. Secondly, it was the first operational flight under NASA’s new commercial space program, which launched (literally) this summer with the first CrewDragon test flight. Additionally, the ISS will house seven people for the first time in years, and will house that many astronauts long-term for the first time ever.
But the success was the result of tireless planning. SpaceX worked for years to design a space shuttle worthy of NASA certification. The company famously beat-out competitor Boeing, which also vied for a NASA contract. Still, seeing the new capsule complete an actual journey to the ISS made it all real, said Kathy Lueders, Head of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Office. She told reporters, “It is the start of a new era.”
Meanwhile, Hiroshi Yamakawa, the director of Japan’s space agency, sent his own congratulations. He says that the work of the entire ISS team, and in particular of Mr. Noguchi, is an inspiration to the Japanese people during these difficult times. “We’re humbled and we’re excited to be part of this great expedition,” he said.