Elon Musk's company sends a dummy and a plush doll to the International Space Station aboard its spacecraft designed to eventually carry astronauts. In the process, it literally opened a door that has been shut for years.
At 5:07 a.m. PT Sunday, a hatch was opened that had been shut and locked since 2011. Moments later, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko passed through the open pressurized mating adapter on the forward end of the International Space Station and into a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.
It was the first time humans have entered a Crew Dragon while in space and the first time anything has passed through that hatch since the Space Shuttle Atlantis docked to the ISS' forward end in 2011.
The Crew Dragon was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Saturday morning.
It's a fitting milestone given that Crew Dragon is one of two private spacecraft, along with Boeing's Starliner, that NASA has chosen to begin ferrying astronauts to space as part of its Commercial Crew program. No astronauts have been launched to space from American soil since that final shuttle flight in 2011, with the journey to orbit being handled by Russian Soyuz craft instead.
NASA under the Trump administration and new leader Jim Bridenstine has made returning crewed launches to the US a top priority.
"Our sincere congratulations to all earthlings who have enabled the opening of this next chapter in space exploration," NASA astronaut Anne McClain said from aboard the ISS during a welcoming ceremony for the Crew Dragon.
Over the next few days the ISS crew will inspect the inside of the Crew Dragon, take photos of its windows to document how they weathered the journey and unload some supplies that made the trip along with a dummy named Ripley and a plush Little Earth doll used as a "super high tech zero-g indicator," according to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
The Crew Dragon is set to detach from the ISS on Friday morning before returning to Earth. A crewed test launch of the Crew Dragon with actual astronauts aboard could take place as soon as July.
"Welcome to the new era in space flight," McClain said from inside the capsule, framed by Ripley and Little Earth.