Last Friday was a special day on my mission. Don and I docked the SpaceX’s cargoship Dragon to the Space Station. Dragon brings new equipment for the crew. On the 31st of May it will return to Earth with supplies from the others and myself. The Dragon mission is the operational highlight of my mission. But it is also a milestone for international spaceflight. This is the first time that a commercial spacecraft has flown to the ISS and docked with the Station. You could say a new era of spaceflight has begun. Soon private companies will take people to and from space.
Dragon launched on 22 May from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We followed the launch from monitors as we were already flying above Ireland by the time the rocket lifted off. Over the last few days Dragon flew closer and closer to ISS. It even flew around our Space Station to demonstrate that the system works and flight control could intervene if necessary. We installed a special targeting mechanism and a camera in front of Node-2's window. We needed them to dock the Dragon.
Once all systems were considered operational I put ISS and Dragon into free drift. This means that both space ships do not automatically adjust their course. This was necessary so that Don could slowly move the ISS robotic arm with my voice guidance to Dragon’s docking mechanism and grasp it. When Dragon was safely attached to the robotic arm I flew it slowly to the ISS and docked it to the bottom of Node-2, also known as Harmony.
Don and I trained long and hard for these procedures. We are happy that everything went smoothly. Once Dragon was secured and became a part of ISS we opened the hatch on Saturday and started unpacking. We will continue unpacking over the next few weeks. We will pack it full of equipment that needs to be returned to Earth. Dragon is the only ferry that can return equipment to Earth. This is important for science as we can now return samples and experiments to laboratories on Earth.
See my photo album of the Dragon approach and docking