Elon Musk’s SpaceX has become the first private company to launch human beings into orbit, after its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft — carrying two NASA astronauts — successfully blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. This is the same launchpad from which Saturn V rocket for the Apollo 11 Mission had taken off, carrying the first humans to the Moon.
This is the first time that astronauts have been launched from US soil since the STS-135 mission on July 8, 2011, following which all astronauts were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) in Russia’s Soyuz Capsule.
The Crew Dragon capsule, which rides on the top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, makes a 19-hour trip to the ISS. The capsule is designed to fly mostly autonomously, but NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will take the controls while in Earth’s orbit to test out its manual capabilities.
Robert Behnken is a NASA astronaut and US Air Force Colonel. This is his third trip to space. Douglas Hurley was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the US Marine Corps before joining NASA in 2000. He’s a veteran of two space flights. Veteran astronauts will spend four months before returning home.
One of the main objectives of NASA’s commercial crew program is to make space more accessible, in a way that crew and cargo can be transported to and from the ISS easily. Through this program, NASA plans to lower its costs by sharing them with commercial partners such as Boeing and SpaceX.
Once successfully docked, Behnken and Hurley will board the ISS and become members of the Expedition 63 Crew, and will perform tests on the Crew Dragon and conduct research.
After completing the mission the two astronauts will depart from the ISS by boarding the Crew Dragon. The trunk gets jettisoned, and a deorbit burn lasting approximately 12 minutes occurs, following which atmospheric re-entry takes place. The Crew Dragon capsule will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean and will be recovered by the Go Navigator Recovery Vessel.
Dawn of Space Tourism
The company currently has two surviving Crew Dragon capsules it can use to ferry astronauts. In addition to its NASA contracts, SpaceX has already been in talks with space tourism companies about bringing tourists to orbit, too. Each ship is designed to hold four NASA astronauts or seven tourists, so humanity’s presence in space should increase in the years ahead.
Actor Tom Cruise could be among the first non-astronauts to take one of those seats. SpaceX and NASA are reportedly in talks about filming an upcoming movie in space.
SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 rocket to be partially reusable, cutting down on operating costs for the company.
However, SpaceX is already developing its next rocket, the SpaceX Starship, which is intended to be fully reusable. The goal is to use Starship for missions to the Moon, Mars, “and beyond.”
The first full crewed mission between SpaceX and NASA was already planned for later this year. While things still need to go well with Demo-2, Bridenstine announced on May 26 that the target is an August 30 launch for a mission called Crew-1.
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