From Chris Hadfield's MasterClass

Spaceships: Navigating to the International Space Station

“It’s kind of like an elephant ballet.” Chris talks you through the process of flying your spaceship to the ISS, docking, and beginning your adventure aboard the laboratory in the sky.

Topics include: "Approaching the Space Station • Navigate by Committee • Docking With the Space Station • Learning to Dock: Practice Systems Failures • Breaking Into Mir"


“It’s kind of like an elephant ballet.” Chris talks you through the process of flying your spaceship to the ISS, docking, and beginning your adventure aboard the laboratory in the sky.

Topics include: "Approaching the Space Station • Navigate by Committee • Docking With the Space Station • Learning to Dock: Practice Systems Failures • Breaking Into Mir"

Chris Hadfield

Teaches Space Exploration

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MISSION CONTROL (VOICEOVER): This is mission control. Status check in the control room here. All positions are go. HOUSTON (VOICEOVER): Discovery, Houston with you. DISCOVERY (VOICEOVER): Discovery, Roger. HOUSTON (VOICEOVER): We've got a good picture of you all in the crew module. DISCOVERY (VOICEOVER): Houston, we have a nice downlink. Good morning, Atlantis. It's time to do that delicate dance in the dark and dock with Mir. All ATLANTIS (VOICEOVER): Right. The task of flying your spaceship up to find, and then rendezvous, and maneuver in, and dock with another spaceship is daunting. It's really complex, and it happens in phases. At the start of it, you're so far away that you can't see each other. All of your information comes from Earth. There's an enormous satellite tracking station somewhere around the world. We have a satellite farm, like the ones down here in New Mexico. And there are big satellite dishes pointed at the sky. And they track maybe the International Space Station go over. And then later, they track whichever ship it is, the Soyuz or the space station go over. And they do the math down on Earth. They figure out the geometry. They figure out that if you want to change from this orbit to that orbit, then you need to turn your spaceship, point a certain direction, and fire your engines for a certain number of seconds, and that will start to modify your orbit to slowly catch up to the orbit of the space station that's there. If you want to catch up, you have to be closer to the Earth, because the closer you get, the faster you go around. So if the station is somewhere out in front of you, you have to be close to the Earth. And because of orbital mechanics, to get closer to the Earth, you actually turn around backwards and slow down. And that drops you into a lower orbit, which then goes around the world more quickly so you catch up. It's weird to slow down to catch up, but you get used to the idea. If you're out in front of the station, then you would have to fire your thrusters forwards. Well, actually, on this, it would be this way. You'd fire your thrusters forwards so that you'd end up in a higher orbit so you could start to drift back and get closer and closer to station. You don't want to crash into the station. You want to keep everything under really tight control. So we go through a delicate, choreographed ballet on the way into a rendezvous and docking. We practice various gates that we want to get to. You want to stop a certain number of miles or kilometers away and get things stable. If you think about it, if you're below the space station, if you're closer to the Earth, then you're going to be pulling away from it in front. If you're higher than the station, then you're going to be drifting back. But if you're at exactly the same altitude as the station, then you go around the world in exactly the same amount of time. So you'll stay stable. If you stop eight miles back from sta...

Explore the unknown

Impossible things happen. At age nine, Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to go to space. He eventually went there three times, becoming a commander of the International Space Station. In his MasterClass, Chris teaches you what it takes to explore space and what the future holds for humans in the final frontier. Learn about the science of space travel, life as an astronaut, and how flying in space will forever change the way you think about living on Earth.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This was a wonderful class. It has now permanently sowed in the back of my head the lessons and the amount courage it takes to pursue something out of the ordinary. As a 16 year old girl, this course thus far has been the greatest step I have taken in order to get a little bit more closer to my impossible seeming dreams! Thank you Masterclass team for that!:)

Amateur cosmologist and professional psychologist here. I am very moved by Chris Hadfield's knowledge and heart felt personal journey as an astronaut.

I loved it. He is a great story teller,not to mention,a great and humble astronaut.Thank you .I hope he has another class for us.It would be great!

Really quite amazing! I took the class just to learn something new and different. Chris Hadfield is a brilliant teacher and commentator. He is able to explain extremely complex ideas, scenarios, and theories in a simplistic fashion for anyone to follow and understand. I thoroughly enjoyed the course!


laura J.

Because I really know little about space this program is worthy of listening to more than once, thank you for the opportunity to join your journey into space.

Renat G.

I wonder why not to use a "space hook" with a wire and bring the ships closer together that way. Might save some fuel. But I guess, it will be a less "controlled" way to do it. Just a random idea.


I enjoyed hearing how it all works. The movies do not portray the task all that well and miss alot of the basic factors required to properly dock. My hats off to all astronauts for their skills. Thanks for impacting human history in such a way that you will never be forgotten.

Bryce M.

There is so much to factor into docking, especially when it will not be on Earth's orbit soon.

Sandy W.

This lesson was fantastic! So interesting. I had always assumed everything was automated. I could feel their joy!

Jim S.

This was one of the most interesting so far to me. I liked the description about how the orbits are brought into synch and how they have to ease the craft together. I'm amazed at how challenging and counter intuitive it all is. I hope they can automate some more of it in the future. I'll bet they will.


Mind blowing stuff. It's so incredible. Thank you for sharing these videos. Watching you dock with Russia was as if it happened today at this very moment. How exciting!! I can't imagine Chris doesn't ever come up short for a story to tell. I'd love to have a chat with him.

A fellow student

I always thought you could also move sideways, so you overtake at the same orbit height... then the mechanics might be a little less complicated... but I guess they must follow exactly the same path, or what?

Pedro C.

It was great to listen the experience of docking from an astronaut. Wonderful indeed!!! It would be even greater to try some kind of simulation in virtual reality and/or in game like resources. Regarding the processes, I would like to know the expected contingencies at docking, and to have a look to the processes, norms, indicators, and statistics. More over, there were some references to the math and geometry needed to get to the dock; If any body have reading or video references about all that math, and is willing to share it, it would be marvellous!!!

Justin S.

Simply fascinating. I never knew the complexities involved during docking in terms of orbital mechanics. I figured they just pointed and aimed. A bit more to it!