Astronauts at the International Space Station have a week to unload supplies from the privately-funded SpaceX Dragon
Astronauts have entered the Dragon for the first time, a day after the privately-funded capsule made history by successfully docking at the International Space Station.
Nasa’s Don Pettit popped into the cargo vessel at 5.53am ET, remarking that it smelled like a brand new car and reminded him of a pick-up truck.
Pettit and other crew members have a week to unload the Dragon’s supplies – food, clothes and other supplies – before it is is scheduled to return to earth.
The capsule was sent into orbit by Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the first private company to launch a mission to the ISS.
Its berthing on Friday was met by cheers by staff at SpaceX headquarters in California.
Elon Musk, the PayPal entrepreneur behind the project, described the event as a “great day for the country and the world”.
He added that it had put human beings one step closer to becoming “multi-planet species”.
Earlier on Friday Pettit had informed ground control of the successful docking, with the words: “It looks like we’ve got us a dragon by the tail.”
Experts had to overcome a slight glitch with laser sensors which briefly delayed the docking manoeuvre. That aside, the procedure went to plan, according to those tasked with carrying out the berthing procedure.
It is the first American craft to dock at the station since the US grounded its shuttle programme, marking a shift towards outsourcing space expeditions to the private sector.
The craft carried around 1,200lbs of water, food, clothing and other supplies for the station’s six astronauts.
Before heading back, Dragon will be stocked up with equipment from the ISS.
Unlike other cargo vessels which burn up on re-entry, the SpaceX craft is expected to survive the trip back to earth. It is due to splash down off the coast of California on Thursday.
The task of capturing the capsule appears to have gone smoothly. Pettit and fellow astronaut Andre Kuipers used a 58ft robotic crane to grab Dragon and attach it to the space station.
SpaceX is helping share the burden of resupplying the international station with crafts from Russia, Europe and Japan. It forms part of President Barack Obama’s space strategy of handing over orbital flights to the private sector, freeing a slimmed-down Nasa to concentrate on the farther reaches of the cosmos and unmanned missions to Mars.
US authorities have also expressed a desire to buy commercial flights for its astronauts, breaking Russia’s monopoly on flying crews to the station. SpaceX has said it hopes to upgrade its services to manned flights in the future.