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Docking is expected to be followed by a hatch opening and welcoming ceremony by the Expedition 58 crew of the International Space Station, which includes Russian cosmonaut and station commander Oleg Kononenko, Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques and NASA astronaut Anne McClain. It docked autonomously, instead of relying on the station's robot arm for help.

An American-built capsule with just a test dummy aboard docked smoothly with the International Space Station, bringing the USA a step closer to getting back in the business of launching astronauts.

That the docking procedure went without error is not only a sigh of relief for NASA's Commercial Crew Program-the project to replace the retired Space Shuttle that is years behind schedule-but excellent news for the three astronauts now residing on the station. The test dummy - or Smarty as SpaceX likes to call it, given all the instrumentation - is named Ripley after the lead character in the science-fiction "Alien" films.

On Saturday, President Donald Trump praised the historic launch of Demo-1, a critical step for NASA and SpaceX to demonstrate the ability to safely fly missions with NASA astronauts to the orbital laboratory.

At about 5:00 EST (10:00 UTC), Crew Dragon reached Waypoint 1, a spot 150 meters away from the station's forward docking port on Node 2, also known as Harmony.

The unmanned capsule arrived right on schedule just before 6 a.m. (ET) on Sunday, following its early morning launch on Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Provided the mission is successful and following further testing, a Demo-2 crewed test flight could be heading to the ISS in July.

The celebration was a milestone for Musk, who launched the company in 2002 with the goal of taking humans into space and one day colonizing Mars.

More than 200 miles above the Earth, McClain and her crew mates offered a slightly different message.

Spectacular video from the station showed the sleek capsule, its nose cone hinged open to reveal its docking mechanism, moving in slowly against the deep black of space. A test dummy "Ripley" sits behind her in a SpaceX spacesuit.

Since then, NASA and partner astronauts from the European Space Agency, Canada and Japan have been forced to hitch rides to the station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft at a current cost of more than $80 million a seat. If everything isn't ideal and ready to go right at 2:49 a.m. EST, the launch will be pushed back to Tuesday at the earliest. It will return to Earth with a conventional re-entry and parachute recovery in the Atlantic Friday morning.

Next up, though, should be Boeing, NASA's other commercial crew provider. The Starliner is now due to make its first uncrewed test flight no earlier than April, and its first crewed flight no earlier than August.

"It's been a long eight years", the Kennedy Space Centre's director Bob Cabana, a former astronaut himself, said as SpaceX employees milled around the rocket. "NASA now pays $82 million per seat".