After taking off from Florida last 30 May, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, named Endeavour, docked with the ISS the next day. Thus, astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken joined Chris Cassidy, Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin.
The Demo-2 mission continued its faultless performance by successfully docking with the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday 31 May at 16:16 (France time). It must be remembered that the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule had left the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida the previous day in the first take-off to orbit from American territory in almost 9 years.
A capsule named ‘Endeavour’
On 30 May, after their capsule reached orbit and after checking their on-board systems, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken had invited NASA TV viewers to visit their spacecraft (video below).
At the start of the retransmission, as commander, Doug Hurley revealed the name he and Behnken had given their capsule: Endeavour, a tribute to the NASA space shuttle of the same name which took them into space for the first time (on two different flights: STS-123 in 2008 for Behnken and STS-127 in 2009 for Hurley).
The pair then got some sleep before the docking procedure scheduled for 31 May. This was the first time an American spacecraft accomplished this manoeuvre automatically on a crewed flight. Last year for the Demo-1 mission, there had been a ‘rehearsal’ of this operation with the Crew Dragon capsule, but without astronauts.
Below: video of the docking
The successful docking was completed nearly 15 minutes ahead of schedule. It was then necessary to wait for the PMA (Pressurised Mating Adapter) module, which serves to connect the capsule to the ISS Harmony module and proceed with leak checking. Thus, it was at 19:22 (France time) that Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken joined their three colleagues already up there since April 2020: Chris Cassidy, Ivan Vagner and Anatoly Ivanishin (conveyed by the Russian Soyuz MS-16 vessel).
A 5-man expedition and a flag to bring back to Earth
It has been almost nine years since any crew had accessed the Station via this hatch on the US side of the ISS. With their Commercial Crew Program, NASA turned to the private sector to transport its astronauts on the basis of turnkey service contracts. In 2014, Boeing and SpaceX were selected and the latter was the first to fulfil all the tests required for the Agency before being certified to conduct a manned mission: in this case, Demo-2 with the Crew Dragon capsule and Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken as test pilots. When certification is confirmed at the end of the mission (the return date remains to be specified, probably within 4 months), Crew Dragon capsules will transport astronauts in the framework of crew rotations to and from the Station. A USCV-1 (United States Commercial Vehicle) flight is planned for the end of August with a crew of 3 American and 1 Japanese astronauts. European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts will also reach the ISS on board private Commercial Crew Program spacecraft.
In the meantime, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken joined Expedition 63 in the Station. Below: the video connection between this 5-man crew and Houston right after the hatch was opened.
When they return, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will bring back the American flag taken up there in 2011 during the final mission of the American Space Shuttle programme, STS-135. It can be seen on the photo (below) tweeted by Russian cosmonaut Ivan Vagner. Hurley was on that STS-135 mission, which means he will have accompanied that symbolic star-spangled banner we mentioned in a previous article both ways.