A four-astronaut team on board the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule has safely arrived at the International Space Station this morning.
The spacecraft docked at the station nearly 24 hours after its departure from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
Controllers on the ground and the four astronauts monitored the docking, but the main maneuvers were directed by computers.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft, which was designed by billionaire technology entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company, came in to dock at around 10.19am UK time – two minutes before its scheduled arrival.
Frenchman Thomas Pesquet is the first European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut to ride in the spacecraft.
Also on board are Nasa astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur and Jaxa’s (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Akihiko Hoshide on his second mission to the ISS.
The astronauts are expected to enter the ISS about two and a half hours after docking at the station and will stay there for six months.
The rocket and capsule launched from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida just before 11am UK time on Friday.
This is the third launch for Nasa’s Commercial Crew programme – which relies on private sector companies operating from the US – in less than a year.
Previously Nasa relied on on the Soyuz shuttle programme for more than a decade.
The “recycled” Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon rocket combination sent four astronauts to the ISS last November and the capsule transported and returned two astronauts during the first crewed SpaceX flight last May.
The crew will replace Nasa’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Jaxa’s Soichi Noguchi, who are scheduled to return to Earth next Wednesday in another SpaceX capsule.
For her debut mission, Ms McArthur is flying on the same seat as her husband Bob Behnken did for SpaceX’s debut crew flight in May last year.
After a six-month stay, the Crew-2 astronauts will leave the ISS in October and splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.
David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at the ESA, said: “Thomas’ mission is part of a sequence that is taking us on a journey that will, one day, end up with boots on Mars, the red planet.
“But right now, Mars is only a destination for our robots.
“Beyond the space station, one of the things we are doing is preparing for the return to the Moon, or going forward to the Moon, to explore it properly this time.
“So Europe is building the power propulsion for Orion – the new deep spacecraft that will take humans to the Moon. We have three seats aboard that are already planned.”
He added: “We will learn then on the Moon how to take that much bigger leap eventually to the surface of Mars.”
Mr Pesquet is due to command the ISS during the final month of his six-month mission.
Josef Aschbacher, the ESA’s director general, described the launch as “an emotional moment”.
He said: “As the director general of ESA, I am very happy to see Thomas now flying to the ISS. All of us at ESA are very excited to see this happening.”
Mr Aschbacher added: “SpaceX has done an incredible job.”
SpaceX has two more astronaut missions planned for this year, the Washington Post reports.
One is the Crew-3 mission to the space station for NASA this spring and the other is a mission to fly a group of four private astronauts.
The latter is set to be the first all-civilian space mission.