US-built cap­sule with a dummy aboard docks at space sta­tion

Sun.Star Pampanga - - SCIENCE! - APE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A sleek new Amer­i­can-built cap­sule with just a test dummy aboard docked smoothly with the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion on Sun­day, bring­ing the U.S. a big step closer to get­ting back in the busi­ness of launch­ing astro­nauts.

The white, bul­let-shaped Dragon cap­sule, de­vel­oped by Elon Musk’s SpaceX com­pany un­der con­tract to NASA, closed in on the or­bit­ing sta­tion nearly 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.

Dragon’s ar­rival marked the first time in eight years that an Amer­i­can-made space­craft ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing hu­mans has flown to the space sta­tion.

If this six-day test flight goes well, a Dragon cap­sule could take two NASA astro­nauts to the or­bit­ing out­post this sum­mer.

“A new gen­er­a­tion of space flight starts now with the ar­rival of @SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the @Space_S­ta­tion,” NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine tweeted. “Con­grat­u­la­tions to all for this his­toric achieve­ment get­ting us closer to fly­ing Amer­i­can Astro­nauts on Amer­i­can rock­ets.”

Ever since NASA re­tired the space shut­tle in 2011, the U.S. has been hitch­ing rides to and from the space sta­tion aboard Rus­sian Soyuz space­craft. In the mean­time, NASA is pay­ing two com­pa­nies — SpaceX and Boe­ing — to build and op­er­ate Amer­ica’s next gen­er­a­tion of rocket ships.

SpaceX’s 27-foot-long (8-meter-long) cap­sule rock­eted into or­bit early Sat­ur­day from NASA’s Kennedy Space Cen­ter with a man­nequin strapped into one of its four seats in a dash­ing, white-and-black, form-fit­ting SpaceX space­suit. The test dummy was nick­named Ri­p­ley af­ter the main char­ac­ter in the “Alien” movies.

Ri­p­ley and the cap­sule are rigged with sen­sors to mea­sure noise, vi­bra­tion and stresses and mon­i­tor the life-sup­port, propul­sion and other crit­i­cal sys­tems.

As the cap­sule closed in on the space sta­tion, its nose cap was wide open like a dragon’s mouth to expose the dock­ing mechanism. In a dock­ing with a crew aboard, the cap­sule would like­wise op­er­ate au­tonomously, though the astro­nauts might push a but­ton or two and would be able to in­ter­vene if nec­es­sary.

The three U.S., Cana­dian and Rus­sian crew mem­bers aboard the space sta­tion watched the ren­dezvous via TV cam­eras. Within hours, the cap­sule’s hatch swung open and the three astro­nauts floated in­side to re­move sup­plies and take air sam­ples, wear­ing oxy­gen masks and hoods un­til they got the all-clear.

Cana­dian as­tro­naut David Saint-Jac­ques pro­nounced the dock­ing flaw­less and called it “a beau­ti­ful thing to see.”

“Wel­come to the new era in space­flight,” he said.

Dragon will re­main at the space sta­tion un­til Fri­day, when it will un­dock for an old-school, “Right Stuff”-style splash­down in the At­lantic, a few hun­dred miles off Florida.

As part of Sun­day’s shake­down, the space sta­tion astro­nauts sent com­mands for Dragon to re­treat and then move for­ward again, be­fore the cap­sule closed in for good. SpaceX em­ploy­ees at com­pany head­quar­ters in Hawthorne, Cal­i­for­nia, cheered the dock­ing, then burst into ap­plause again when the Dragon’s latches were se­cured.

The two astro­nauts set to fly aboard Dragon as early as July, Doug Hur­ley and Bob Behnken, wit­nessed the Florida liftoff, then rushed to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia to watch Sun­day’s ma­neu­ver.

“Just su­per ex­cited to see it,” Behnken said min­utes af­ter the linkup. “Just one more mile­stone that gets us ready for our flight com­ing up here.”

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.

SpaceX al­ready has made 16 trips to the space sta­tion us­ing cargo Dragons. The ver­sion de­signed for hu­mans is slightly big­ger and safer.

It can carry as many as seven peo­ple and has three win­dows, emer­gency-abort en­gines that can pull the cap­sule to safety, and stream­lined con­trols, with just 30 but­tons and touch screens, com­pared with the space shut­tle cock­pit’s 2,000 switches and cir­cuit break­ers.

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