US NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken made history as they successfully entered the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the first commercially funded space flight to carry humans.
The astronauts docked the SpaceX-owned Dragon capsule to the ISS on Sunday 31 May, to the bow section of the orbiting lab, found 422km above China.
The successful flight came after a SpaceX demonstration of its new crew vehicle last year, which only had a dummy aboard.
The Dragon capsule left the Kennedy Space Center on top of a SpaceX Falcon rocket on Saturday 30 May. After 19 hours of flight, confirmation of the capsule’s attachment to the ISS arrived at 14:16 GMT (15:16 BST) on 31 May.
The docking was a hands-free, fully automated process and at 17:02 GMT (18:02 BST) following pressure and temperature checks, the doors opened, allowing Hurley and Behnken to float on through to the ISS.
The pair were greeted by the current ISS Expedition 63 crew, made up of ISS Commander and fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
‘A new era of human spaceflight’
This mission was part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and was the first launch from American soil to feature a crew, since the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet and closing of the Space Shuttle program in 2011.
The mission marks the beginning of a new era that will see NASA working with the commercial sector to make trips to and from the ISS.
NASA will no longer own or operate the vehicles it uses on such missions, but will rather purchase rockets and technologies from firms, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX, based in California.
A statement on NASA’s website has described this transition to the use of commercial transportation, as “a new era of human spaceflight”.
What will the astronauts be doing in the ISS?
Both Hurley and Behnken will be maintaining and testing all of the systems onboard the ISS, and giving their feedback to engineers.
It is unknown how long they will remain onboard, but some believe it to be four months.Speaking of the successful journey and his mission ahead, Doug Hurley said, "We're just happy to be here and Chris is going to put us to work.
“And hopefully we will fit in and not mess too many things up.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine congratulated the duo on a job well done, "The whole world saw this mission and we are so, so proud of everything you've done for our country and, in fact, to inspire the world."
What is in store next for the Commercial Crew Program?
NASA plans to swiftly move onto the next phase of SpaceX $2.6bn (£2.1bn) contract, for the launch of six manned "taxi" flights.
The first of these manned flights are likely to launch at the end of August 2020.