A team of four astronauts aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule made it safely to the International Space Station this morning.
The spacecraft docked at the station almost 24 hours after it departed from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Controllers on the ground and the four astronauts supervised the docking, but the main maneuvers were controlled by computers.
The Crew Dragon starship, designed by the company of billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, arrived at around 10:19 a.m. UK time – two minutes before it was scheduled to arrive.
The French Thomas Pesquet is the first astronaut from the European Space Agency (ESA) to travel in the spacecraft.
Also on board are NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur as well as Jaxas (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 stay there for six months.
The rocket and capsule launched shortly before 11 a.m. UK time on Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
This marks the third launch in less than a year for Nasa’s Commercial Crew program, which is powered by US private companies.
Previously, NASA relied on the Soyuz shuttle program for more than a decade.
The “recycled” Crew Dragon capsule / Falcon rocket combination sent four astronauts to the ISS last November, and the capsule carried and returned two astronauts during the first manned SpaceX flight last May.
The crew will replace Nasas Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as Jaxas Soichi Noguchi, who are due to return to Earth next Wednesday in another SpaceX capsule.
For her debut mission, Ms. McArthur is flying in the same seat as her husband Bob Behnken for SpaceX’s first crew flight last May.
After a six-month stay, the Crew 2 astronauts leave the ISS in October and splash in the Atlantic off the coast of Florida.
David Parker, Director of Human and Robotic Research at ESA, said: “Thomas’s mission is part of a sequence that takes us on a journey that will one day end in boots on Mars, the red planet.
“But at the moment Mars is only a target for our robots.
“Beyond the space station, we are preparing, among other things, for the return to the moon or the moon so that we can really explore it this time.
“So Europe is building the power train for Orion – the new deep spaceship that will take people to the moon. We have three seats on board that are already planned.”
He added, “We will then learn on the moon how to eventually make that much bigger jump to the surface of Mars.”
Mr. Pesquet will command the ISS for the final month of his six month mission.
Josef Aschbacher, Director General of ESA, described the start as an “emotional moment”.
He said: “As Director General of ESA, I am very pleased that Thomas is now flying to the ISS. All of us at ESA are very excited to see this.”
Mr. Aschbacher added, “SpaceX did 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 said to be the first purely civil space mission.