ISS Astronauts Enter SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

Posted May 26th, 2012 at 1:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Astronauts at the International Space Station got their first glimpse inside the SpaceX corporation's Dragon capsule Saturday, just one day after it made history as the first commercial spacecraft to reach the station.

The crew members opened the cargo-filled Dragon Saturday morning, with U.S. astronaut Don Pettit commenting that the inside smelled like “a brand new car.”

Speaking to reporters later from inside the capsule, Pettit praised the Dragon's size and said he foresees no problem with eventually using it to transport people.

“I spent quite a bit of time poking around in here this morning, just looking at the engineering and the layout, and I'm very pleased. It looks like it carries about as much cargo as I can put in my pickup truck. And it's roomier than a Soyuz, so flying up in a human-rated Dragon is not going to be an issue.”

Russia, Japan, and Europe all have the capability to resupply the ISS, but Russia's Soyuz spacecraft is currently the only vehicle able to transport astronauts to the space station.

The Dragon will remain linked with the ISS for a week so the station's crew can unload about 500 kilograms of supplies and reload it with used equipment to be sent back to Earth.

The capsule docked at the station Friday after the astronauts used the station's robotic arm to grab it.

The docking of the privately-owned craft begins a new phase in the U.S. space program after the U.S. space agency, NASA, retired its shuttle fleet last year.

NASA is now turning to SpaceX and other private companies to take over for the shuttles — ferrying supplies, and eventually astronauts, to the space station.

NASA's space station program manager, Mike Suffredini, called the way SpaceX built, tested and flew the Dragon “remarkable.” He said the spacecraft performed “nearly flawlessly.”

The chief executive of SpaceX, billionaire Elon Musk, also hailed the docking, saying Friday, “there was so much that could have gone wrong, and it went right.”