SpaceX Crew Dragon successfully docks at International Space Station

24 April 2021, 11:54 | Updated: 24 April 2021, 12:02

By Kate Buck

SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule has successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) with four astronauts on board.

Frenchman Thomas Pesquet is the first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut to ride in the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was designed by billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk's company.

Also on board is Nasa's Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and Jaxa's (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Akihiko Hoshide on his second mission to the ISS.

The capsule came in to dock at around 10.19am UK time.

The rocket and capsule launched from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida just before 11am UK time on Friday.

It is the third launch for Nasa's Commercial Crew programme, which relies on private sector companies operating from the US, in less than a year.

The capsule came in to dock at around 10.19am UK time.
The capsule came in to dock at around 10.19am UK time. Picture: PA
SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule have successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) with four astronauts on board
SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule have successfully docked at the International Space Station (ISS) with four astronauts on board. Picture: PA

Nasa was previously reliant on the Soyuz shuttle programme for more than a decade.

The "recycled" Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon rocket combination sent four astronauts to the ISS last November and the capsule transported and returned two astronauts during the first crewed SpaceX flight last May.

The crew will replace Nasa's Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Jaxa's Soichi Noguchi, who are scheduled to return to Earth next Wednesday in another SpaceX capsule.

For her debut mission, Ms McArthur is flying on the same seat as her husband Bob Behnken did for SpaceX's debut crew flight in May last year.

After a six-month stay, the Crew-2 astronauts will leave the ISS in October and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

The ISS as seen from the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Saturday, April 24, 2021.
The ISS as seen from the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Saturday, April 24, 2021. Picture: PA
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. Picture: PA

David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at the ESA, said: "Thomas' mission is part of a sequence that is taking us on a journey that will, one day, end up with boots on Mars, the red planet.

"But right now, Mars is only a destination for our robots.

"Beyond the space station, one of the things we are doing is preparing for the return to the Moon, or going forward to the Moon, to explore it properly this time.

"So Europe is building the power propulsion for Orion - the new deep spacecraft that will take humans to the Moon. We have three seats aboard that are already planned."

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon space capsule lifts off from pad 39A
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon space capsule lifts off from pad 39A. Picture: PA
The crew board the Crew Dragon ahead of the flight on Friday
The crew board the Crew Dragon ahead of the flight on Friday. Picture: PA

He added: "We will learn then on the Moon how to take that much bigger leap eventually to the surface of Mars."

Mr Pesquet is due to command the ISS during the final month of his six-month mission.

Josef Aschbacher, the ESA's director general, described the launch as "an emotional moment".

He said: "As the director general of ESA, I am very happy to see Thomas now flying to the ISS. All of us at ESA are very excited to see this happening.

Mr Aschbacher added: "SpaceX has done an incredible job."