SpaceX has made history once more and, no, it’s not for yet another successful rocket landing or reusing a rocket. The historic milestone takes place in outer space this time, with its Crew Dragon spacecraft checking a few “firsts” off its list. More than just its first unmanned test flight, the Crew Dragon Demo-1 also made a historic first automated docking with the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon, as its name implies, is designed to carry human crew along with around 220 lbs of cargo. Of course, for its maiden voyage, it had to first test the safety of the craft. Instead of an actual human, the Crew Dragon carried a lifelike anthropomorphic test “device” lovingly called Ripley that had sensors to help determine the potential effects of the trip on actual humans. The spacecraft also carried 400 lbs of supplies for the ISS crew and a plush toy named Little Earth.
More than just its first flight, the Crew Dragon’s docking is also a first in space travel history. Having no humans onboard to guide it, it was also a test of automated docking systems for future runs. It was also the first time that the space station tested the international docking adapter that was installed in 2016. Coincidentally, that adapter was delivered by a non-Crew SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
The successful docking of the Crew Dragon sets a positive tone for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, where SpaceX and Boeing compete to transport crew to and from the International Space Station. When certified to be finally safe for humans, the Crew Dragon has the capacity to carry at most four crew members. The Crew Dragon will remain docked to the ISS for up to 210 days, though no word has yet been given on what is planned for it afterward.