A test dummy fitted with several instruments occupied one of the four seats.
A little over two hours later, the space station's three crew members - American Anne McClain, Canadian David Saint-Jacques and Russian Oleg Kononenko - opened the hatch of the space capsule and, for the first time, penetrated its interior in space.
The white, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule, developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX company under contract to NASA, closed in on the orbiting station almost 260 miles above the Pacific Ocean and, flying autonomously, linked up on its own, without the help of the robotic arm normally used to guide spacecraft into position.
"We're on the precipice of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil again for the first time since the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011", said Bridenstine, who got a special tour of the launch pad on the eve of launch, by Musk.
Next up, though, is Boeing, which is looking to launch its Starliner capsule without a crew as early as April and with a crew possibly in August. Russian Soyuz seats go for up to $82 million apiece. It used its computers and sensors to guide itself to the station.
Capsule docked with International Space Station on Sunday at 5:51 AM ET on International docking Adapter. Engineers will be carefully watching sound, vibration and other stresses on the spacecraft, while monitoring the life-support, communication and propulsion systems. The version designed for humans is slightly bigger and safer.
Since launched at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Saturday to contact Sunday, the flight took 27 hours. "What today really represents is a new era in spaceflight". SpaceX employees at company headquarters in Hawthorne, California, cheered the docking, then burst into applause again when the Dragon's latches were secured.
The switch from NASA owning spacecraft to paying private firms for a service was started under previous president Barack Obama - yet because of development delays, has worked out as expected under US President Donald Trump. The crew also installed window covers and checked vales inside the capsule before the official welcoming ceremony. The company pioneered the reusable rocket to help bring down the cost of each individual launch and to help eventually make space travel more accessible.