Crew Dragon docks with space station after smooth rendezvous

Crew Dragon Endeavour approaches the International Space Station carrying three NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut. Image: NASA TV.

A SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft caught up with the International Space Station early Tuesday after a 28-hour orbital chase, bringing three NASA astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut to the outpost for a six-month tour of duty.

The docking capped an exceptionally busy “day” for SpaceX that included the Crew Dragon’s launch Sunday at 10:53 p.m. EST, followed by two back-to-back Falcon 9 flights Monday, one from Florida and the other from California, that put a total of 76 satellites into orbit.

All the while, the Crew Dragon, launched three days late because of high winds, continued its automated approach to the space station, catching up from behind and below and then moving in for docking at the Harmony module’s forward port at 2:28 a.m. EST Tuesday, about a half hour earlier than expected.

After hooks drove home to firmly lock the spacecraft in place, a SpaceX flight controller called to confirm “docking sequence is complete. So with that, Crew Dragon Endeavour, welcome to the International Space Station. We would also like to note that you can’t be ‘Crew L8’ (late) when you arrive 30 minutes early.”

“SpaceX Dragon … copies all,” Crew 8 commander Matthew Dominick replied. “So excited to be here, and thank you, all the teams that got us here, so much.”

Dominick, space station veteran Mike Barratt, Jeanette Epps and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin are replacing Crew 7 commander Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese flier Satoshi Furukawa and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov. They plan to undock March 11 to close out their own six-month stay in space.

“From those of us on board, welcome to the International Space Station,” Moghbeli radioed after Crew 8 docked. “Mike, welcome back. We think a few things have changed since you left. Matt, Jeanette, Sasha, you’re going to absolutely love it here.”

“Good to hear your voice, Jasmin, and looking forward to seeing you in just a moment,” Dominick replied.

“Absolutely,” Moghbeli said. “I’m both excited and sad, because it means I’m leaving soon.”

In a traditional welcome-aboard ceremony, station commander Andreas Mogensen (with microphone) jokes with the Crew 8 fliers, front row in blue flight suits, left to right: Jeanette Epps, cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin, Mike Barratt and Crew Dragon commander Matthew Dominick. Image: NASA TV

After leak checks to verify an airtight structural seal, hatches were opened and the Crew 8 fliers floated into the space station to be welcomed aboard by Moghbeli’s crew and three other station crew members who flew to the lab aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft: commander Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara.

“Welcome to space, Matt, Jeanette and Alex, and welcome back to space to Mike,” said Mogensen, the outgoing space station commander. “You guys are going to have a fantastic mission, and we look forward to spending the next week in space with you.”

Dominick said his crew was “super excited to be here.”

“Thank you to everyone who helped put this together,” he said, “such a giant team around the world, and we’re excited to be on board and ready to take over the watch.”

Barratt, making his third space flight and his second long-duration visit to the station, said it was great to be back, adding “our flight’s gonna go by in the blink of an eye, and I’m really anxious to start. Thanks for the very warm welcome.”

Crew 7 will spend nearly a week familiarizing their replacements with the intricacies of space station operations before undocking and returning to Earth.

Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara were launched last September. The two cosmonauts are midway through a yearlong stay aboard the space station while O’Hara is wrapping up a more typical six-month tour.

On March 21, a fresh Soyuz will be delivered to the space station by veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA veteran Tracy Dyson.

Then, on April 2, Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya will return to Earth along with NASA’s O’Hara, using the Soyuz spacecraft that carried Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara to the station last September.

Dyson will return to Earth next September, joining Kononenko and Chub aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft delivered by Novitskiy.