SpaceX’s newly launched capsule with four astronauts arrived Monday at the International Space Station, their new home until spring. The Dragon capsule pulled up and docked late Monday night, following a 27-hour, completely automated flight from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. This is the second astronaut mission for SpaceX. But it’s the first time Elon Musk’s company delivered a crew for a full half-year station stay. The two-pilot test flight earlier this year lasted two months.
The three Americans and one Japanese astronaut will remain at the orbiting lab until their replacements arrive on another Dragon in April. And so it will go, with SpaceX and eventually Boeing transporting astronauts to and from the station for NASA. Hopkins and his crew Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi join two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan.
For Sunday’s launch, NASA kept guests to a minimum because of coronavirus, and even Musk had to stay away after tweeting that he “most likely” had an infection. He was replaced in his official launch duties by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. As they prepared for the space station linkup, the Dragon crew beamed down live window views of New Zealand and brilliant blue, cloud-streaked Pacific 250 miles below.