CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center here Saturday afternoon, and then whizzing around the Earth at speeds that eventually hit 17,500 mph, the SpaceX spacecraft carrying two NASA astronauts docked with the International Space Station Sunday morning, completing the first leg of a historic journey.

The mission was the first time NASA astronauts had launched from United States soil since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, and it marked the first time a private company had flown astronauts to orbit.

It was also a test flight designed to see how the spacecraft, which had never flown humans before, performed. So far, it seems the answer is very well, but the astronauts still need to return home safely after their tour on the station ends sometime in the coming months.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the pair chosen for the mission because of their experience and expertise flying new vehicles, reported that the spacecraft was performing well.

“Dragon’s a slick vehicle,” Behnken said.

“We couldn’t be happier about the performance,” Hurley said.

With their trip to the space station completed, the pair can claim victory in an epic game of capture the flag, taking possession of the American flag that was brought to the station on the last shuttle flight, and was waiting to return to Earth by the first crew to reach the station from U.S. soil.

For NASA, the flight was the culmination of a journey that began years ago, when the Space Shuttle program ended with no way for the space agency to send people into space. In the nine years since, NASA paid Russia as much as $90 million a seat to fly its astronauts to the space station.

Ultimately, NASA decided to outsource the job of space launches to the private sector, awarding contracts to SpaceX and Boeing in 2014, worth a combined $6.8 billion. Initially, Boeing, the industry stalwart that had been NASA’s partner for generations, was considered the favorite. But its Starliner spacecraft encountered significant problems during a test mission without crews late last year and had to cut that flight short.

That left SpaceX, which also had encountered problems in developing its spacecraft, in the lead to be first to launch with astronauts on board.

Everything about this first crewed SpaceX mission appears to have been picture-perfect, from its on-time lieftoff at 3:22 p.m. Saturday to its rendezvous with the space station at 10:16 a.m. Eastern time Sunday. The astronauts floated into the space station at 1:22 p.m., 22 hours after they’d left Florida.

Hurley and Behnken, both of whom are married to fellow astronauts, seemed loose and relaxed during the journey, showing off the stuffed animals they had brought with them to show to their kids. Behnken did a weightless flip for the camera, and they carried on the tradition of naming their spacecraft, announcing they had dubbed their Dragon capsule “Endeavour” — the same name as the space shuttle they had both flown aboard.

On Sunday morning the crew continued another longstanding NASA tradition, choosing to wake up to music. The crew of Gemini 6 started the tradition in 1965, waking up to “Hello Dolly” by Jack Jones, according to a history complied by NASA historian Colin Fries.

The use of music as an alarm clock continued during the Apollo program “when astronauts returning from the Moon were serenaded by their colleagues in mission control with lyrics from popular songs that seemed appropriate to the occasion,” Fries wrote.

On the final flight of the Space Shuttle, the crew chose an eclectic mix from Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.

Behnken and Hurley went in a different direction for their wake-up call Sunday. At 4:45 a.m., the controllers on the ground played Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan,” a slow, almost mystical tune that mixes guitar and bongos and is about “taking a spaceship out to the stars,” a band member once said.

During a live broadcast from the spacecraft, Hurley said the pair had been able to get some rest before the wake-up call.

“We ended up sleeping just like we are right now, in our chairs, which was actually a pretty comfortable night’s sleep,” he said.

By the time they woke up, the spacecraft was already bearing down on the space station, having performed a series of “burns” or engine thruster firings that raised its orbit and brought them closer to the orbiting laboratory.

The Dragon spacecraft flies autonomously, but the astronauts can take over the controls at any time, and they did so twice to check how the systems performed. During the broadcast from the capsule, Hurley noted that they were the first astronauts to control a spacecraft using a touchscreen.

“So we got that going for us,” he said.

Unlike the violent force of liftoff, docking is a delicate and carefully choreographed bit of orbital ballet, requiring patience and a finesse. Inside NASA’s mission control in Houston, and SpaceX’s headquarters outside of Los Angeles, controllers called through a series of maneuvers that seemed to go off without a hitch, one by one.

And then, at 10:16 a.m. Endeavour’s slow, smooth glide to the station ended with a kiss as the station flew over China and Mongolia.

“We have docking,” NASA’s Dan Huot said during a broadcast of the event.

It took a few hours for the crews to ensure that the pressure was equalized between the space station and the Endeavour spacecraft. But then the hatch was opened and after a few more minutes, the pair floated into the station. Behnken came first, Superman style, smile beaming, into the arms of fellow astronaut Chris Cassidy, who has been aboard the station since April.

Hurley came next. And the three astronauts and friends embraced, along with two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

Speaking during a welcome-aboard ceremony on the station, Hurley said “it’s great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business, and we’re just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine praised the pair, saying the agency is “so proud of everything you have done for our country, and in fact to inspire the world.”

The mission, Bridenstine said, foreshadows a sea change in the way NASA will do business in space. Instead of owning and operating the spacecraft itself, Bridenstine said, the future of the agency will lie with partnering with the growing commercial space sector, as it has with SpaceX.

“This was an amazing moment,” he said. “And it represents a transition in how we do spaceflight from the United States of America.”

The launch was initially scheduled for Wednesday, but was scrubbed because of weather. The delay meant Hurley and Behnken missed “Saturday housecleaning day,” Cassidy joked.

Not to worry, he said, promising to put his new crewmates to work: “We’ll catch up next weekend.”

Below are the updates from the docking of SpaceX’s capsule.

May 31, 2020 at 2:32 PM EDT

Unclear how long astronauts will remain in space

It could be months before the NASA astronauts who flew the Endeavour Crew Dragon capsule return to Earth from the International Space Station. Or it could be as soon as the end of next month.

NASA officials haven’t decided how long Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will remain in space. In a May 1 mission briefing, agency leaders said they could spend as many as four months aboard the ISS or as few as five weeks.

It all depends on the shape of the Endeavour capsule and when SpaceX and NASA officials feel it is again safe to fly. Hurley and Behnken’s flight is a demonstration mission, officially called Demo-2, to test the spaceworthiness of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon and certify them for future crewed launches. With the demo launch complete, the two astronauts’ main goal is to evaluate their spacecraft and report how well it weathered the flight and docking.

Space officials also want to make progress on SpaceX’s Crew-1 capsule, the next Dragon capsule in line for launch.

“Really the decision point is, ‘Hey, is Dragon healthy? Is the vehicle performing well, the Dragon that’s on orbit?’" NASA Commercial Crew Program deputy director Steve Stich said at the briefing, via Space.com. “And then we’ll be looking ahead to that next mission, the Crew-1 flight, and looking at the vehicle readiness and trying to determine what’s the smart thing to do relative to the mission duration.”

By Jacob Bogage
May 31, 2020 at 1:51 PM EDT

Astronauts welcomed aboard the space station in emotional ceremony

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were welcomed aboard the station in an emotional ceremony Sunday afternoon after a nearly 19-hour journey that began when their Falcon 9 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center the day before.

It was the first flight of NASA astronauts from United States soil since the space shuttle was retired nearly a decade ago.

Speaking during a welcome-aboard ceremony on the station, Hurley said, “it’s great to get the United States back in the crewed launch business, and we’re just really glad to be on board this magnificent complex.”

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine praised the pair, saying the agency is “so proud of everything you have done for our country, and in fact to inspire the world.”

The mission, he said, foreshadows a sea change in the way NASA will do business in space. Instead of owning and operating the spacecraft itself, Bridensitne said the future of the agency lay with partnering with the growing commercial space sector, as it has with SpaceX.

“This was an amazing moment,” Bridenstine said. “And it represents a transition in how we do spaceflight from the United States of America.”

The launch initially was scheduled for Wednesday but scrubbed because of weather. The delay meant Hurley and Behnken missed “Saturday housecleaning day,” said astronaut Chris Cassidy, who has been on the station since April.

Not to worry, he said, promising to put his new cremates to work: “We’ll catch up next weekend.”

By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 1:28 PM EDT

Astronauts open the hatch and board the space station

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are now aboard the International Space Station.

The pair opened the hatch of their SpaceX Dragon capsule at 1:02 p.m. Eastern time and floated into the station at 1:22 p.m. They were greeted by fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who has been on the station since April, and two Russian cosmonauts.

The hatch opening completes the last major milestone of the launch that began Saturday, when the SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. The spacecraft docked with the station at 10:16 a.m. and the crews worked to equalize the pressure between the spacecraft and the station before opening the hatch.

By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 12:48 PM EDT

What living in space is really like

Chris Cassidy, who is about to greet fellow NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on the International Space Station, is no stranger to space flight.

He’s a former head of the astronaut office and on his third spaceflight. He knows the particular curiosities inherent in living in a weightless environment.

As he told The Post last year, in space astronauts use the tops of their feet more often than the bottoms. That’s because they are constantly hooking their feet under rails, to help keep them in place.

Calluses come off the bottoms of feet and grow on the top.

“After about a month or so all the skin comes off like a snake shedding its skin,” he said. “I remember taking my sock off one day about a month or two into the mission, and it was like an explosion of dead skin floating around me. Then I realized my feet were as soft as a baby’s bottom.”

He spoke to The Post as part of a project in which Post reporters interviewed 50 astronauts about what living in space is really like.

By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 11:42 AM EDT

Dear astronauts, please pick up your trash

The first order of business for astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley before boarding the International Space Station: throw away your trash. Unless, they’re hungry. They’re allowed to eat first.

As Behnken and Hurley prepare to climb out of their Endeavour capsule for the first time in nearly a day, their itinerary for the opening hours in their new floating apartment is pretty stacked. It includes cleaning up after themselves.

“Please collect all your food and water bottle trash,” SpaceX mission controller Anna Menon told them.

Trash is a bit of an issue on the ISS. Astronaut Scott Kelly described the odor on board as a mixture of antiseptic and garbage. Part of the crew’s daily duties are a thorough vacuuming.

Astrobiologist Kasthuri Venkateswaran studied the contents of the station’s HEPA air filters and bags of vacuum dust in 2015 to see what kind of dirt and germs actually make their way up.

First, a lot of skin cells.

“After about a month or so all the skin comes off like a snake shedding its skin,” NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy told The Washington Post. “I remember taking my sock off one day about a month or two into the mission, and it was like an explosion of dead skin floating around me. Then I realized my feet were as soft as a baby’s bottom.”

Also, some nasty pathogens, such as Staphylococcus and Propionibacterium. They tend to settle on surfaces and get swept up in vacuum cleaners. The air on the ISS, even if it doesn’t smell great, is pretty darn clean.

“The ISS is a unique built environment,” Venkateswaran said. “People assume it’s filthy, but it’s not. It’s many, many times cleaner than your bathroom at home.”

By Jacob Bogage
May 31, 2020 at 11:28 AM EDT

Who is already on the International Space Station?

When NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrive at the International Space Station on Sunday, they’ll join ISS Expedition 63 and three people already aboard.

Chris Cassidy, 50, is the lone American. He’ll be in charge of helping the SpaceX Dragon capsule, now named Endeavour, dock with the space station. A retired Navy SEAL captain who served two six-month deployments in Afghanistan and two more in the Mediterranean, Cassidy was selected as an astronaut in 2004 and became the 500th person to fly in space, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2009. Hurley was that mission’s pilot.

Cassidy has been aboard the space station since April 9.

Anatoly Ivanishin, 51, is the senior Russian cosmonaut aboard. This is his third ISS expedition. A former fighter pilot who was selected to be a cosmonaut in 2003, he launched with Cassidy to the space station on April 9.

Ivan Vagner, 34, is the other cosmonaut on the ISS. He was an engineer for a Russian company that built civil and military aircraft before joining a national aerospace and defense contractor while working as an assistant flight manager for the space station. He was selected as a cosmonaut in 2010.

By Jacob Bogage
May 31, 2020 at 11:03 AM EDT

Flight command looks into minor issue with Behnken’s spacesuit

SpaceX flight control engineers are investigating a minor problem with the pressurization of astronaut Bob Behnken’s space suit.

During one of the last suit checks, Behnken’s suit reported lower pressure than prior tests. SpaceX flight control asked Behnken to check the bladder zipper heads and any exposed zipper teeth that could cause the suit to lose pressure while “doffing” the suit in preparation to board the International Space Station.

Behnken’s suit had plenty of pressurization to remain safe, but SpaceX flight control wanted to “rule out potential hardware issues” that could be problematic in future uses. Behnken reported back some concern with the zippers.

“I’ve got both structural zippers on my hands lowered and I do see white teeth visible on both sides. It looks like a full white tooth,” he said.

“It looks like a white tooth on the leg zipper as well,” he added moments later.

By Jacob Bogage
May 31, 2020 at 10:58 AM EDT

Awaiting hatch opening

The Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley is docked with the International Space Station, but it will take awhile before they open the hatch and float onboard the station.

The astronauts and controllers on the ground have to ensure the pressure between the spacecraft and the station is equalized. They also will be setting up an umbilical that will allow communications and power to transfer between the two.

The Dragon spacecraft, now named Endeavour, docked at 10:16 a.m. Shortly after docking, Hurley said, “it’s been a real honor to be just a small part of this nine year endeavor since the last time a United States space ship docked with the International Space Station.”

In Houston’s mission control, flight director Zeb Scoville congratulated the crew.

“Bravo on a magnificent moment in spaceflight history,” he said, “and on the start of a new journey that has changed the face of space travel in this new era of space transportation.”

By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 10:17 AM EDT

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft docks with space station, another mission milestone

SpaceX has completed the first part of its historic flight to the International Space Station Sunday morning, when its Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the orbiting laboratory at 10:16 a.m., a few minutes earlier than planned.

Before opening the hatch and entering the station, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will conduct a series of pressure and leak checks to ensure their safety. Then they will join fellow NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts aboard the station.

The docking was a delicate and dangerous part of the mission. The spacecraft chased down the space station, traveling in orbit at 17,500 mph, but then approached very slowly in a series of carefully choreographed maneuvers.

The mission went smoothly, ground officials said, following a picture-perfect launch some 19 hours earlier from the Kennedy Space Center.

By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 10:01 AM EDT

Do you have the right stuff?

The Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station is an autonomous vehicle, designed to fly itself.

The astronauts can, at any time, take over the controls and fly the capsule manually. During their mission this weekend, they were scheduled to do that twice to test how the spacecraft’s systems work.

But the most delicate part of the mission, the docking with the space station, will be done by the spacecraft’s onboard computers. Still, Hurley and Behnken have spent hours in simulators running through every kind of scenario should they need to take over.

Now you can see whether you have the “right stuff” by trying to dock the spacecraft on this simulator SpaceX has made available online.

Crew Dragon is designed to be fully autonomous, but @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken can take control of the spacecraft if necessary. Simulator here → http://iss-sim.spacex.com

Posted by SpaceX on Saturday, 30 May 2020
By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 9:50 AM EDT

Astronauts take control of capsule as docking nears

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken took control of the Endeavour Crew Dragon capsule as it tiptoed its way toward the International Space Station, just after 9:30 a.m.

The spacecraft is making small “attitude adjustments,” or slight maneuvers to line up exactly with the docking portal on the ISS. The astronauts can command bursts of Endeavour’s Draco thrusters to ease the vessel back and forth. Afterward, it will begin “transnational adjustments,” traveling at speeds as gradual as 0.1 meters per second, to rotate Endeavour on its axis.

The movements are part of a battery of intricate protocols to prepare the Crew Dragon to meet with the space station. Moving the final 400 meters to the space station, after starting 254 miles away on the Earth’s surface, takes close to two hours, the vast majority of which is spent inside the last 220 meters while negotiating the unique physics of space. For every course correction, there is a counter-correction to halt the spacecraft’s progress.

Even as the ISS and Endeavour appear to be sitting still, they’re both flying around the Earth at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

By Jacob Bogage
May 31, 2020 at 9:33 AM EDT

Elon Musk and SpaceX pull off another feat few thought possible

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The goal was always to fly humans. So even when SpaceX built a spacecraft to fly cargo and supplies to the International Space Station — but not astronauts — the designers added a curious feature to make a point: a window.

Inside SpaceX, that window became a symbol of its larger ambitions and a reminder to its workforce that human spaceflight was the ultimate goal, the reason Elon Musk started the company as it works eventually to get people to Mars.

Since its founding in 2002, SpaceX has achieved remarkable feats few thought possible. It designed rockets that not only propelled their payloads to orbit but landed back on Earth to be reused.

It launched the Falcon Heavy, a monster of a rocket with three boosters and 27 engines. It opened up the Pentagon’s launch market, which for a decade had been dominated by a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

But for all the successes over the years, and all the hype the company has generated along the way, it had never flown a single person.

Until Saturday.

With the successful flight, SpaceX joins rarefied company. Only three nations have sent humans to orbit. And while NASA has for years relied on contractors to build the rockets and spacecraft that have flown its astronauts, this launch was done under an unusual arrangement, what NASA calls its “commercial crew program,” in which two contractors, SpaceX and Boeing, design and build spacecraft to ferry NASA astronauts to the space station.

By Christian Davenport
May 31, 2020 at 9:29 AM EDT

Good morning from space

In space, you rise to music.

It’s a NASA tradition that stretches back decades: astronauts waking to tunes piped up from the ground. The tradition began in 1965, when the wake-up song was “Hello Dolly” by Jack Jones during Gemini 6, and continued during the Apollo program “when astronauts returning from the Moon were serenaded by their colleagues in mission control with lyrics from popular songs that seemed appropriate to the occasion,” according to a history of NASA wake-up music compiled by Colin Fries, a NASA historian. “Several crews have awakened on their final day in space to Dean Martin’s popular song ‘Going Back to Houston,’” Fries wrote.

The practice was continued during the space shuttle program. John Young and Robert Crippen awoke to “Reveille” on the first shuttle mission in 1981.

On the final flight of the space shuttle 30 years later, the crews chose an eclectic mix from Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon,” and “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, went in a different direction for their wake-up call Sunday. At 4:45 a.m. Eastern time, the ground played Black Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan,” a slow, almost mystical tune that mixes guitar and bongos about “taking a spaceship out to the stars,” a band member once said.

During a live broadcast from the spacecraft, Hurley said the pair was able to get some rest before the wake-up call.

“We ended up sleeping just like we are right now, in our chairs, which was actually a pretty comfortable night’s sleep,” he said.

By Christian Davenport