SpaceX Dragon docks early delivering Crew-3 astronauts to space station

Dragon Endurance arrives at ISS bringing 4 astronauts, supplies and a 'peacock turtle'

The four Crew-3 astronauts and a sparkling turtle arrived at the International Space Station Thursday evening, bringing supplies for the orbiting laboratory.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer launched Wednesday at 9:03 p.m. inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endurance from Florida's coast.

Their 22-hour journey was complete after the Dragon Endurance docked at the ISS. The arrival was fully automated, but as the pilot, Marshburn could manually take over controls if needed.

Docking was scheduled to happen at 7 p.m., but Chari said the spacecraft was ahead of schedule while en route.

The spacecraft completed an approach burn after 5 p.m. and was given the "go" for approach shortly after. 

"A pretty glorious sight," Chari said, spotting the space station in the distance.

A soft docking happened at 6:32 p.m. ET. The astronauts still needed to wait for Endurance to be fully mated to the space station port before they could exit Dragon and enter their new home for the next six months.

With the blackness of space around it, Endurance completed docking at the space station port while 263 miles above the Eastern Caribbean Sea.

The current space station residents, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, watched as the spacecraft approached.

When the hatch opened, the Crew-3 astronauts were greeted by their new ISS housemates, and a welcome ceremony was planned onboard the station Thursday night. Hugs were handed out all around as Barron, Chari, and Maurer received their astronaut pins.

After facing multiple launch delays in the past two weeks, the astronauts made it into orbit Wednesday night. Soon after, they revealed their zero-gravity indicator was a colorful turtle named Pfau, wearing a silver space helmet. 

The tiny turtle's name was a tribute to Barron and Chari's 2017 astronaut class known as "The Turtles" and a nod to Maurer's German nationality, as well as Marshburn's 2004 astronaut class known as "The Peacocks."

"We're excited to represent our class in space," Barron said. "And Tom is a Peacock, so to get everybody on board, we picked a Peacock turtle, you'll note she's peacock colored, and we named her Pfau, which is German for peacock."

From inside Dragon, the astronauts described the ride to space. Marshburn said it was "quite smooth" compared to his previous launch experiences.

Maurer said they have been practicing their photography skills, capturing some views of Earth through the Dragon windows.

Early on in the trip, Marshburn said they had already had two meals. The astronauts have scissors and spoons for their in-flight utensils.

"One of the most delightful experiences in space is eating, and everybody's been feeling really good," Marshburn said, adding, "we've not had any disasters at all."

In the live stream, Marshburn demonstrated how they keep their water ready to drink by twirling the bottle pushing the liquid to the top.

"Just drinking water up here is an enormous amount of fun," he said.

This will mark the first trip to ISS for Chari, Barron and Maurer. Marshburn has now flown on three different spacecraft, including Dragon, space shuttle and Soyuz.

While in orbit, the astronauts will conduct research on health technologies, growing plants in space, and how to prepare for long-duration space missions.

The Crew-3 astronauts will spend about six months on station, returning in April 2022. Crew-2, the last astronauts to fly with SpaceX as part of NASA's commercial crew program, returned to Earth Monday night.