WASHINGTON - SpaceX’s Dragon capsule on Friday became the first private company to rendezvous with the International Space Station when it was successfully grabbed by the orbiting research lab’s robotic arm.
“It looks like we got us a Dragon by the tail,” said US astronaut Don Pettit, who was operating the Canadian-built robotic arm from the space station as it reached out and hooked on to the unmanned SpaceX capsule.
The two spacecraft were traveling about 250 miles (402 kilometers) above northwest Australia at the time of the grab, NASA said.
Next, a formal berthing of the Dragon will bring the capsule closer to latch on at the station’s Harmony module so its cargo can be unloaded over the coming days, SpaceX said.
SpaceX’s supply ship has now reached the climax of its test mission to become the first privately owned craft to reach the space station, restoring US access to the space outpost after the shuttle program’s end.
Only Russia, Japan and Europe currently have supply ships that can service the ISS. The United States lost that capacity when it retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011. California-based SpaceX hopes its gumdrop-shaped Dragon capsule will be able to carry astronauts to the ISS in about three years’ time. Russia is now the only nation capable of ferrying astronauts there aboard its Soyuz capsules.