Spacecraft Docked at the ISS

Docking spacecraft can be an intricate and dangerous procedure. Both the International Space Station (ISS) and any visiting shuttle or capsule orbit the Earth at high speeds, making small corrections easy enough to send both rocketing away.

Both US and Russian segments of the station feature systems to reestablish communication; these IDA ports (Induced Degradation Active Port) replace Pressurized Mating Adapters that were once common.

Space Shuttles

The Space Shuttles were the world’s first reusable spacecraft. Launching like rockets and maneuvering in Earth orbit like spacecraft, they eventually returned back down as airplanes to land back over in the Atlantic Ocean for reuse and recovery of their solid rocket boosters (SRBs).

Shuttles used Space Launch Vehicles, known as SRBs, to place satellites into orbit for commercial and government use. Originally, these shuttles were meant to dock with Soviet/Russian Mir space station.

Early systems for docking spacecraft relied on “space rendezvous,” the ability for two vehicles to locate one another in orbit and align their centers of gravity for connection. The inaugural manual docking was performed during Gemini 6 mission in 1965 using Agena target vehicle without human crew members present.

On Saturday after an eight-and-a-half-hour orbital chase, SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft successfully completed an automated rendezvous with the International Space Station and docked with its zenith port for docking – providing fresh cargo deliveries for use by astronauts onboard the orbital outpost.


Soyuz spacecraft have long been used by astronauts traveling between Earth and the International Space Station. It was even the vehicle that brought the inaugural crew members of Salyut 1, Soviet Russia’s first orbital station.

Design of the spacecraft dates back to the 1960s. Although its appearance has undergone many revisions over time, it remains one of the most reliable vehicles ever constructed.

Soyuz was designed to transport astronauts between Earth and the ISS as well as back down again, using parachutes and rocket engines to slow its descent further before finally landing on Kazakhstan’s grassy steppes.

Soyuz undocking requires opening hooks and latches that held its hard mate with the Station, then performing a 15-second separation burn to separate its Propulsion, Orbital, Descent Module from each other; after which its Descent Module will be jettisoned, followed by deployment of both its main chute and drogue parachutes.

International Space Station

The International Space Station was born of decades of global cooperation. Construction began in 1998 and took ten years and 30 missions before becoming a permanent, crewed laboratory the size of a football field. Its modular sections produce power, host labs and living spaces as well as offering breathtaking views of Earth; astronauts move between segments using robotic Canadarm2s or other means allowing astronauts to move between ends of this massive structure with ease.

On June 6, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule carrying NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams successfully docked with the International Space Station, marking a significant achievement in commercial spaceflight. Despite having lost several thrusters during launch and experiencing a minor helium leak which neither Boeing nor NASA considered likely to impede mission success, docking went smoothly despite these issues.

Now, Wilmore and Williams are gearing up to launch their Soyuz MS-19 spacecraft for an impressive reentry and landing demonstration, which will involve a fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere and an airbag assisted touchdown in the U.S. desert Southwest. You can watch livestreams provided by NASA to witness this amazing event!

Commercial Spacecraft

At its heart, commercial spacecraft are typically designed to transport supplies; in this instance, Axiom Space’s Dragon spacecraft successfully docked with the International Space Station on Monday.

SpaceX’s Dragon cargo ship and Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule, both developed with funding from NASA.

Peggy Whitson and three other retired astronauts will board and enter the outpost for an eight-day stay that includes student outreach events, scientific experiments, and more.

NASA and Boeing will soon begin regularly launching human-rated spaceflight vehicles, with hopes to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and beyond. Though too early to tell what kind of future these companies will have in spaceflight business, today’s success brings us one step closer towards an exciting era in spaceflight history.

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