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SpaceX capsule lands successfully at ISS

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, 2 March 2019.
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, 2 March 2019. Reuters/Mike Blake

The SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully landed at the International Space Station on Sunday evening.The capsule is designed to carry astronauts to the international base, 400 kilometres away, in the near future, possibly as early as July.

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The weekend landing was a trial run, carrying a test dummy and 90kg of supplies. It used its computers and sensors to guide itself to the station.

The operation was overseen by the space station's three crew members, American Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko, who were able to command the Dragon to hold, retreat or abort the docking if necessary.

Afterwards, they opened the hatch of the space capsule and, for the first time, penetrated its interior in space.

Watching on the ground was astronaut Bob Behnken, who has been chosen, along with Doug Hurley, to make the first crewed ride in the Dragon when it gets its certification.

Contact appeared to be made very slowly, but both spacecraft were orbiting the Earth at more than 27,000 kilometers per hour.

From blast-off at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday to contact Sunday, the flight took 27 hours.

Transporting people a new challenge

The Dragon capsule is due to stay at the ISS until Friday when it will detach and begin the journey back to Earth.

This is the phase of the mission that SpaceX founder Elon Musk says worries him the most: the high-speed descent back to Earth.

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine tweeted his congratulations on "this historic achievement," which brings the United States one big step closer to again flying astronauts into space on American rockets.

NASA has relied on Russia to ferry its astronauts to the space station since the US space shuttle program ended in 2011, after a 30-year run.

SpaceX has made the trip to the ISS a dozen times since 2012, but only to bring cargo to the station.

Transporting people is a more complex task, requiring seats, a pressurized cabin with breathable air, temperature regulation and emergency escape systems.

 

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