The SpaceX Crew Dragon has docked with the International Space Station (ISS), delivering two astronauts to the space lab on Sunday, following a historic liftoff in yet another first for Elon Musk's company.
It marks the first time a manned spacecraft launched on US soil has reached the ISS since 2011, when US Space Shuttle programmed was canned.
It also marks a milestone for Space X's Crew Dragon. The capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically, with no manual intervention from the astronauts.
It was the first time a privately-built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the orbiting lab in its nearly 20 years. NASA considers this the opening volley in a revolution encircling Earth and eventually stretching to the moon and Mars.
The docking took place just under 19 hours after launch from Cape Canaveral.
It was a textbook success for Space X, whose first-stage booster was recovered following the now-familiar vertical landing a drone ship in the Atlantic.
The largely automated process was uneventful. Both Hurley and Behnken tested manual operation at one point, which they said behaved much like the simulator.
Behnken and Hurley are expected to spend weeks aboard the ISS before returning to Earth.
However long they stay, it’s a historic moment — this is the first time a crewed private spacecraft has docked in orbit.
If all goes well, this is an important step toward making space more accessible.
As it happened
A few hours before docking, the Dragon riders reported that the capsule was performing beautifully. Just in case, they slipped back into their pressurized launch suits and helmets for the rendezvous.
The three space station residents kept cameras trained on the incoming capsule for the benefit of flight controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Gleaming white in the sunlight, the Dragon was easily visible from a few miles out, its nose cone open and exposing its docking hook as well as a blinking light. The capsule loomed ever larger on live NASA TV as it closed the gap.
Hurley and Behnken took over the controls and did a little piloting less than a couple hundred yards (meters) out as part of the test flight, before putting it back into automatic for the final approach. Hurley said the capsule handled "really well, very crisp."
SpaceX and NASA officials had held off on any celebrations until after Sunday morning's docking -- and possibly not until the two astronauts are back on Earth sometime this summer.
NASA has yet to decide how long Hurley and Behnken will spend at the space station, somewhere between one and four months. While they're there, the Dragon test pilots will join the one U.S. and two Russian station residents in performing experiments and possibly spacewalks to install fresh station batteries.
In a show-and-tell earlier Sunday, the astronauts gave a quick tour of the Dragon's sparkling clean insides, quite spacious for a capsule. They said the liftoff was pretty bumpy and dynamic, nothing the simulators could have mimicked.
An old-style capsule splashdown is planned.
After liftoff, Musk told reporters that the capsule's return will be more dangerous in some ways than its launch. Even so, getting the two astronauts safely to orbit and then the space station had everyone breathing huge sighs of relief.
As always, Musk was looking ahead.
"This is hopefully the first step on a journey toward a civilization on Mars," he said Saturday evening.