Nov. 17 (UPI) -- Four astronauts entered the International Space Station early Tuesday to hugs and cheers from the orbiter's current residents following a historic launch from Florida on board Resilience, SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule.
Resilience with its SpaceX Crew 1 lifted off from Florida's Kennedy Space Center on Sunday night for a 27 1/2-hour flight through space that ended with a successful docking to the low-orbit space station at 11:01 p.m. EST Monday.
The hatch between the two space vessels opened at 1:02 a.m. Tuesday and NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi from Japan's space agency, floated into the station where Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins of Expedition 64 received them with open arms.
"It's been an incredible journey," Hopkins told mission control during a welcoming ceremony on the space station. "I can't tell you how excited we were when that rocket lifted off the pad and then the last 27 hours have gone really smooth, actually. And we are so excited to be here."
The SpaceX Crew 1 mission marks several milestones, including the first commercial spacecraft to transport astronauts to the station, the first operational flight under NASA's new commercial space program, the first time in years that the station has housed seven people and the first time ever to host that many people long term.
Rubins and the two cosmonauts boarded the space station last month, and with the size of Expedition 64 more than having doubled, NASA expects lots of work and science to be conducted over the next six months, Kathy Lueders, head of NASA's Human Spaceflight Office, told reporters early Tuesday.
"We're humbled and we're excited to be a part of this great expedition," Hopkins said. "We're looking forward to the next six months and can't wait to get started."
Hiroshi Yamakawa, director of Japan's space agency, told the crew their mission was an inspiration to all Japanese citizens suffering through the hardships of the coronavirus pandemic and that Noguchi's participation was significant for Japan and emblematic of their country's longstanding relationship with the United States.
He said their work on the station over the next six months will aid future international space exploration "beyond low-Earth orbit to the moon and Mars."
"We are always behind you," he told the crew. "Good luck. And enjoy your time in space."
Lueders said the SpaceX mission is the realization of a dream to crew transportation services to the station.
"It is the start of a new era," she said.