SpaceX successfully launches, docks first operational crew to ISS

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SpaceX Crew Dragon docking to the ISS.
Image: Twitter | SpaceX

For the second time this year, SpaceX has successfully launched NASA astronauts from U.S. soil. On Sunday evening, a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon walker, as well as JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi, sat inside the capsule.

The four-person crew just rendezvoused with the International Space Station on Monday evening. Since the Crew Dragon capsule is fully automated, the crew was able to dock at the station on schedule without needing to intervene.

It’s worth noting that this is the first operational launch to come out of the partnership between SpaceX and NASA. The mission that sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS this summer was still considered a test.

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Monday’s launch signals the beginning of a new era for human spaceflight. NASA and SpaceX will now continue to shuttle astronauts to and from the ISS on a regular basis.

Success Off the Ground

To be clear, the Crew-1 mission is nowhere close to being complete. Sunday’s launch marks the successful beginning of an extended mission. The four astronauts are scheduled to stay aboard the ISS for several months before returning home. That is different than May’s Demo-2 mission, which lasted only a few weeks before returning the astronauts safely to Earth.

When SpaceX’s Falcon 9 took off on Sunday night, the spaceflight company did something that it is getting good at. It successfully caught the Falcon 9 booster on a drone ship called “Just Read the Instructions” that was located in the Atlantic Ocean. Now, SpaceX will reuse the rocket for its next crewed mission, Crew-2.

As the Crew Dragon capsule escaped from gravity, the crew had one more surprise. The team packed a plush Baby Yoda as its zero-G indicator. Using such an object to demonstrate that the craft has reached microgravity is a longstanding tradition in human spaceflight. Including a beloved character from the Disney+ hit “The Mandalorian” is something that puts a smile on everyone’s face.

As the capsule made its way to the ISS, the plush could be seen bouncing around with the crewmembers. Hopefully the Razor Crest doesn’t descend on the Crew Dragon in an attempt to rescue The Child.

Successful Docking

Shortly after 11 p.m. EST on Monday, the Crew Dragon capsule autonomously docked to the ISS. Thanks to the spacecraft’s advanced features, the crew was able to sit back and relax as the two made a connection.

After safety checks and a few hours of waiting, the crew will be welcomed aboard the station by the current crew.

Moving forward, NASA and SpaceX could be sending astronauts to space on a much more frequent basis. The agency originally tasked SpaceX with designing a system that would allow it to shuttle astronauts to the ISS every six months. Whether or not that timeline is what will be followed remains to be seen.

Regardless, the Crew-1 mission is now well underway with the quartet of astronauts safely docked at the ISS. It will be worth watching how NASA and SpaceX continue to develop their partnership in the coming years.

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