SpaceX Dragon Connects With International Space Station

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(CNN) — The SpaceX Dragon was successfully berthed at the International Space Station Wednesday as the station’s crew caught and secured the unmanned cargo capsule high above Earth, NASA announced.

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide latched onto Dragon with a robotic arm at 6:56 a.m. By 9:03, the craft was attached to the station’s docking module, the space agency said.

“Looks like we’ve tamed the Dragon,” NASA’s Sunita Williams, commander of the current ISS mission, said in a statement released by SpaceX.

The Dragon mission lifted off Sunday on the first commercial space cargo mission, carrying about a half-ton of supplies for the station’s crew. It caught up with the ISS Wednesday morning, 273 miles over the South Atlantic Ocean, NASA said.

“This is a big moment in the course of this mission and for commercial spaceflight,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in a statement released by the company. “We are pleased that Dragon is now ready to deliver its cargo to the International Space Station.”

It’s the first of a dozen missions ordered by NASA under a contract with the company. NASA says the crew will start unloading the craft on Thursday.

The unmanned capsule is now attached to the space station for a two-and-a-half-week stay. After the supplies are pulled off, astronauts will reload the craft with scientific experiments and failed equipment that can be repaired and sent back.

The Dragon remained on course despite engine trouble on its booster after liftoff Sunday night. A minute and 19 seconds after the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, one of its nine Merlin engines “lost pressure suddenly,” the company disclosed Monday. But the rocket “did exactly what it was designed to do,” as its flight computer made adjustments to keep the Dragon headed into the proper orbit, the company said.

Controllers are reviewing flight data in an effort to figure out what happened to the booster rocket, but initial readings indicate that an engine fairing broke apart under stress.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden called Sunday’s launch and the mission “a critical event in space flight.”

SpaceX, founded in 2002 by Musk, is looking beyond cargo flights to develop a version of the Dragon that would carry astronauts to the ISS. It’s one of three companies, along with Sierra Nevada and aerospace giant Boeing, that NASA has chosen to work on the project.

Within the next few months, Orbital Sciences is expected to fly its own demonstration flight to the space station. Instead of using Cape Canaveral as its launch site, the company’s rocket will take off from Wallops Island, off the coast of Virginia. Orbital has a nearly $2 billion contract with NASA for station resupply missions.

In 2008, NASA chose SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the Dragon spacecraft to resupply the space station after the space shuttle program was retired. The space agency plans to turn much of its focus toward exploring deep into the solar system.

“The $1.6 billion contract represents a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion,” SpaceX says on its website.