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Privately owned spacecraft docks with International Space Station

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WASHINGTON : Four astronauts travelling on a new spacecraft designed by Mr Elon Musk's rocket company SpaceX greeted their new crewmates aboard the International Space Station yesterday after successfully docking in a landmark achievement for private space travel.

In Nasa's first full-fledged mission ferrying a crew into orbit on a privately owned spacecraft, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule dubbed Resilience opened its hatch door shortly after 2pm (Singapore time), two hours after docking and 27 hours after launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"SpaceX, this is Resilience. Excellent job. Right down the centre," Crew Dragon commander Mike Hopkins said from the spacecraft after docking.

"SpaceX and Nasa, congratulations, this is a new era of operational flights to the International Space Station from the Florida coast."

A few minutes later, the crew of three Americans and one Japanese astronaut emerged from the capsule and boarded the station, greeting the existing crew of one US astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts with hugs and high-fives. The space station, an orbital laboratory about 400km above Earth, will be their home for the next six months. After that, another set of astronauts on a Crew Dragon capsule will replace them.

That rotation will continue until Boeing joins the programme with its own spacecraft late next year.

Mr Hopkins arrived with pilot Victor Glover and physicist Shannon Walker, in addition to Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, making his third trip to space after previously flying on the US shuttle in 2005 and Russia's Soyuz in 2009. - REUTERS