Nearly 24 hours after its on-time liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft arrived at the International Space Station, the first goal of its journey.

In a delicate dance, the spacecraft aligned itself with one of the station’s docking ports and parked itself. The maneuvers were directed completely by the spacecraft’s computers. Controllers on the ground and the astronauts on board the capsule and the station monitored closely, but the computers were in control.

The two crafts were then locked together by a dozen hooks. The astronauts then ensured that the seal between spacecraft and station was tight and that the air pressure inside the spacecraft and the station was the same. Then they opened the hatch and crossed into the station.

Here’s what to know:

  • For the third time in a year, SpaceX on Friday launched astronauts to the station.
  • The astronauts were due to dock with the station at 5:10 a.m. but arrived two minutes early. The astronauts are expected to enter the station about two and a half hours later.
  • The launch was initially postponed after high winds along the flight path.
  • It took the Dragon spacecraft almost 24 hours to catch up to the space station, which is traveling 17,500 mph at an altitude of about 240 miles.

Astronauts board the International Space Station

11:59 a.m.
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The Crew-2 astronauts have boarded the International Space Station, floating through the hatch to a warm welcome from their fellow astronauts on the orbiting laboratory.

First through the hatch was Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, followed by Thomas Pesquet of France, then NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough. They then gathered snugly around the hatch opening for a formal welcome ceremony.

“Let the Tetris game of fitting 11 crew members into a single frame begin,” NASA commentator Gary Jordon said during a live broadcast of the event.

The crew is scheduled to stay on board the station for six months performing science experiments and station upgrades.

“It is awesome to see the 11 of you on station,” acting NASA Administration Steve Jurczyk said, congratulating the crew on a safe mission that had lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida the day before.

McArthur, whose husband and fellow NASA astronaut Bob Behnken flew to the station on the same spacecraft last year, said that the crew is “just so excited to be here. ... We’re ready to get to work. There’s a lot of great science that I know we’re going to be doing."

As Crew-2 arrives, Crew-1 prepares to go home

11:00 a.m.
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When NASA started its “commercial crew” program, the plan was to create a regular transportation system to the International Space Station, with multiple flights a year, as had existed during the space shuttle program.

Now, once again, NASA has it. SpaceX has flown three human spaceflight missions to the station. The latest, known as Crew-2, docked Saturday morning. Now that those four astronauts have arrived, the Crew-1 astronauts, who arrived at the station in November, are preparing to fly home after a six-month stay.

First, they’ll hand over operation of the station to their new crew mates, helping them get up to speed with everything that’s happening. Then on Wednesday, the Crew-1 astronauts are scheduled to get back into their spacecraft for the fiery journey home through Earth’s atmosphere. If all goes well, the crew, comprised of NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover as well as Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, would undock from the station and splashdown off the coast of Florida at about 12:35 p.m.

SpaceX’s next mission to the station, Crew-3, is scheduled for the fall.

What’s the future of the space station?

10:30 a.m.
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The International Space Station is a magnificent ship, one that now has two SpaceX Dragon spacecraft attached to it. As long as a football field, it will soon have 11 astronauts on board as it orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes.

The space station has had humans living on it continuously for more than 20 years. But it has shown signs of aging, and Russia has recently said it could abandon the program by 2025. The United States is currently committed to the station through 2024, though Congress is expected to extend the station’s life for several years later.

Now NASA is working on what comes next. It’s not interested in building another expensive, government-funded station. Rather the plan for now is to have commercial space stations that would be developed in partnership with the space agency.

Axiom Space, among others, is in the process of designing successors to the ISS. But those projects are still in the early stages and will need time — and money — to succeed. What happens next isn’t known. But it will pose one of the biggest challenges for former Sen. Bill Nelson, president Biden’s pick to become NASA administrator, once he is confirmed.

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft docks with the International Space Station

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SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft docked with the International Space Station Saturday at 5:08 a.m. Eastern, nearly 24 hours after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and two minutes ahead of schedule.

The autonomous spacecraft aligned itself with one of the station’s ports and parked itself in a delicate maneuver watched closely by controllers on the ground and astronauts on board the station. It was expected to take about 15 minutes for the docking sequence to be completed. On board the spacecraft are NASA astronauts Megan McArthur, Shane Kimbrough, France’s Thomas Pesquet and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide.

The astronauts will check to ensure that the seal is tight and that the pressure between the spacecraft and the station is equalized. Then, at approximately 7:15 a.m. Eastern, they are expected to open the hatch and board the station, where seven other astronauts are waiting to greet them.

A welcome ceremony is expected at about 7:30 a.m.

Crew-3 mission is expected in the fall, but isn’t the only flight SpaceX has planned

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SpaceX has two more astronaut missions planned for this year — the Crew-3 mission to the space station for NASA this fall, and a mission to fly a group of four private astronauts that could come as early as September and become the first all-civilian space mission.

That flight, known as Inspiration4, is being funded by billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, who has made it a fundraising effort for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Joining Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments, are four private citizens: Haley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude who as a child was treated for bone cancer there; Sian Proctor, a scientist who won her seat in a competition by building an online store using Isaacman’s platform; and Chris Sembroski, a Lockheed Martin engineer, who was picked at random as part of a hospital fundraising sweepstakes.

The group is scheduled to spend a few days orbiting Earth inside SpaceX’s Dragon capsule.

SpaceX also is planning to launch another crew of private citizens early next year in a mission organized by Axiom Space, a Houston-based company. That group, three billionaires who are paying $55 million each, would be joined by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is now a vice president at Axiom. The crew would spend about a week at the space station before returning to Earth.

This is the second time this space capsule has docked with the space station

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Friday’s launch was the first time NASA has approved SpaceX’s reuse of equipment that had previously flown. The Falcon 9 booster that launched had flown before and the capsule, dubbed Endeavour, was the first SpaceX spacecraft to carry human beings to space.

It docked with the space station on May 31, 2020, with two astronauts onboard, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who flew aboard what was considered a test flight to make sure the craft functioned as expected.

That journey took Endeavour 22 hours to reach the space station, slightly less than the 23½ hours Endeavour is expected to have traveled on its current trip.

There’s another overlap between the current mission and its first one: astronaut Megan McArthur, one of the four aboard Endeavour this time, is married to Behnken and was assigned to the same seat in the capsule that he had occupied.

It’s getting crowded on the space station

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The arrival of Crew-2 at the space station will bring the station’s population to 11, nearly twice the six people that are normally there at a time.

That means the astronauts will have to make do, sleeping wherever they can find a spot — even on the ceiling, since in the weightless environment of space there is no up or down.

After arriving at the space station in November, NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, the station’s current commander, also faced tight conditions. He ended up sleeping in the Dragon capsule that had carried him there. The capsule was connected to the station.

The space station will be crowded for only a few days, however, since Hopkins’s group of astronauts, known as Crew-1, is scheduled to return to Earth on Wednesday, with splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not just astronaut accommodations that are crowded. Boeing, the other company that has a contract to fly NASA astronauts to the space station, says it’s ready to fly a test of its long-delayed capsule as early as May. But because there’s no place to park it, Boeing says it doesn’t expect to undertake the test until August or September.