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After 27-Hour Flight, SpaceX Crew Dragon Docks At ISS

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There are now four more astronauts on board the International Space Station. SpaceX's Dragon capsule docked with the orbiting outpost, which is 262 miles above Idaho, just hanging out over Idaho. It's the first time a commercial space vehicle launched a long-term crew to the station. And it ushers in a new chapter of commercial space flight. From our member station WMFE, Brendan Byrne has more.

BRENDAN BYRNE, BYLINE: It took the crew about 27 hours to dock to the station after launching from Florida's Kennedy Space Center Sunday night.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Dragon SpaceX - soft capture confirmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Dragon copies. And we see the same.

BYRNE: For the three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut, they were mostly passengers. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, nicknamed Resilience, autonomously docked to the space station.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Resilience SpaceX - docking sequence is complete. Welcome to the ISS, Resilience.

BYRNE: The docking is a big step forward for NASA's partnership with commercial companies. For the first time, astronauts flew on a privately built and launched space vehicle on an operational mission. When the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA called on commercial companies to fill the void. SpaceX, along with Boeing, received contracts to ferry astronauts to the station, ending the reliance on rides from the Russian space agency. Instead of building new spacecraft, NASA bought a seat on a commercial vehicle, changing the way the agency operates, says Space Florida's Dale Ketcham.

DALE KETCHAM: To me, the biggest thing is that this was unlike every other launch of humans into space before. This was a commercial transaction. And it was simply the government buying a service.

BYRNE: Boeing is still working to certify its vehicle with an uncrewed mission to the station set for early next year. Now with this successful SpaceX flight, there are seven people on the station, joining the three already on the ISS who launched on a Soyuz spacecraft. The SpaceX astronauts will spend about six months on board the station, conducting science experiments and performing maintenance before heading back to Earth in the Crew Dragon capsule, splashing down off Florida this spring. For NPR News, I'm Brendan Byrne.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELORMAN'S "L'ESPERANZA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.