MARTIN: SpaceX, the space exploration company founded by Elon Musk, developed Crew Dragon, which is the first American spacecraft capable of carrying humans to be launched since NASA stopped developing its own space shuttles in 2011.
The white, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule, developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX company under contract to NASA, closed in on the orbiting station almost 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.
NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos who were forced to abort their mission to the International Space Station (ISS) when their Soyuz's rocket booster malfunctioned shortly after launch in October a year ago are set to launch again on March 14.
The Crew Dragon is expected to reach the space station Sunday morning, merely 27 hours after liftoff.
"Today's successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a statement.
The Crew Dragon is scheduled to remain docked for five days before returning to Earth on March 8. During operational crew missions, Dragon will be able to carry approximately 50 kg of cargo to and from the station, in addition to the crew.
"We can confirm hard capture is complete", NASA said.
"This is just an incredible sight for the SpaceX team to see the ISS crewmembers inside the capsule", SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio said during a live webcast of the hatch opening.
This photo provided by SpaceX shows a test dummy in the new Dragon capsule designed for astronauts.
Behnken said that's the way it should work when he and Hurley are on board; they may push a button or two and will have the ability to intervene, if necessary.
There was, however, no crew aboard the spacecraft, just a test dummy named Ripley, in a nod to the lead character in the Alien movies.
Nasa is also working with Boeing on crew transport.
Like Ripley, the capsule is rigged with sensors to measure noise, vibration and stresses, and to monitor the life-support, propulsion and other critical systems throughout the flight.
During the rendezvous, Dragon went through numerous milestones, first coming into view at around 3,000 meters out, before approaching towards the Approach Elipsode and arrive at Waypoint 0.
Next up, though, is Boeing, which is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August. It's had to pay to use Russian Soyuz vehicles instead.
"The first day of a new era for the next generation of space explorers".