SpaceX Nasa Mission: Astronaut capsule docks with space station

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Media captionThis is the first time in nine years that US astronauts have launched from US soil

US astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have docked with the International Space Station (ISS).

Their Dragon capsule – supplied and operated by the private SpaceX company – edged them into port on the high-flying lab’s bow section.

The men will have to wait for leak and pressure checks to be completed before they can disembark and join the Russian and American crew already on the ISS.

Hurley and Behnken launched from Florida on Saturday.

It was the first time since the retirement of the shuttles nine years ago that the US space agency has sent up astronauts from home soil.

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NASA

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Hurley (far) and Behnken (near) were hands-off for the docking

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Media caption“Go Nasa, go SpaceX. God speed Bob and Doug”

The mission marks the beginning of a new era in which Nasa will be purchasing transport services from the commercial sector. No more will it own and operate the vehicles that run to and from the station.

This will be done, as in this case, by firms like California’s SpaceX outfit, which is led by tech billionaire Elon Musk.

Confirmation of the Dragon’s attachment at the ISS came at 14:16 GMT (15:16 BST), slightly ahead of schedule, 422km (262 miles) above the border between northern China and Mongolia.

It was a fully automated process; Hurley and Behnken had no need to get involved – although they had practised some manual flying on approach.

SpaceX flew a first demonstration of its new crew vehicle last year, but that had only a dummy aboard. This sortie is the first to carry humans.

Hurley’s and Behnken’s job on the mission is to test all onboard systems and to give their feedback to engineers.

SpaceX and Nasa need a clean crewed demonstration so they can move swiftly to the next phase of the company’s $2.6bn contract which will see six crew “taxi” flights occur, with the first likely at the end of August.

When Hurley and Behnken enter the ISS they will claim the Stars and Stripes flag left on the platform by the members of the very last shuttle mission in 2011.

Earlier, the two astronauts named their Dragon ship in the time-honoured tradition of US spacefarers. They called it “Endeavour”, in part to celebrate the new course being set by Nasa and its commercial partners, but also to acknowledge the past contribution to American space efforts by Shuttle Endeavour, on which both Hurley and Behnken served in the late 2000s.

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NASA

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Behnken (far) and Hurley (near) both flew on Shuttle Eandeavour as well

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Getty Images

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CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is the first to offer a commercial crew transport service

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