SpaceX makes history with Crew Dragon launch

SpaceX crew demo-1
Photo: SpaceX

SpaceX and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) made history with the recent successful launch and International Space Station (ISS) docking of the Crew Dragon spaceship.

The uncrewed spacecraft launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on March 2. The ship subsequently arrived at ISS early on March 3. The successful mission marks a huge milestone for both organizations. SpaceX and NASA have been working together to resume sending humans into outer space from American soil since 2006.

Since the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, the U.S. has relied on Russian rockets to send Americans into space. Therefore, Crew Dragon’s current ISS rendezvous notably brings SpaceX founder Elon Musk and NASA one step closer to achieving their mutual goal to send a manned spacecraft into outer space.

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History-Making Launch

A new era in U.S. spaceflight dawned on March 2. When a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched, it sent the first Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit on an autonomous test flight.

The historic mission also marked the first launch of a commercially-developed capsule that can put cargo and people into orbit. The 215-foot tall rocket lifted off the launching pad at KSC in Florida at 2:49 a.m. ET on March 2.

Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken reportedly watched the game-changing launch from the SpaceX launch control room. Both men are slated to be aboard the Crew Dragon’s first manned flight, which is set for this summer.

Hurley described the exhilaration associated with making an inaugural flight on a spacecraft to reporters at the launch saying, “I can’t begin to explain to you how exciting it is for a test pilot to be on a first flight of a vehicle. We’ll be ready when SpaceX and NASA are ready for us to fly it.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also weighed in on the pivotal moment in American history on Twitter. “Today’s successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American Astronauts on American rockets from American soil.” wrote Bridenstine. “Congratulations to the @SpaceX and @NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s history. #LaunchAmerica.”

Years of Hard Work Pay Off

Elon Musk vigorously pursued a vision to “revolutionize space technology” when he founded SpaceX in 2002. The company has garnered worldwide attention for hitting multiple milestones since then. Notably, the Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to carry cargo to and from ISS in 2012.

Musk thanked his SpaceX team for their perseverance at a post-launch news conference. “I’d like to express a very strong note of appreciation to the SpaceX team,” Musk said. “It’s been 17 years to get to this point, from 2002 to now, an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people to have gotten to this point.”

The visionary leader also admitted feeling “a little emotionally exhausted” by the stress of it all. Musk’s exhaustion makes sense. SpaceX recently reduced the size of its workforce so the company can trim costs to achieve future goals.

Successful ISS Docking

Another historic landmark was reached the next day when Crew Dragon successfully docked at the International Space Station ahead of schedule in the morning of March 3.

The groundbreaking capsule carried 400 lbs. of supplies and an astronaut test dummy named Ripley toward the waiting ISS crew. According to a NASA report, sensors on Ripley will provide important data about potential effects a Crew Dragon flight could have on humans.

Crew Dragon impressively orbited Earth 18 times before successfully connecting to the ISS Harmony module via a “soft capture” at 5:51 a.m. ET on March 3.

Furthermore, the capsule skillfully executed a series of maneuvers before completing the final docking sequence, including backing away from ISS and re-approaching.

Cheers reportedly rang out from ISS and back at launch control when mission control finally announced, “Soft capture confirmed.”

Warm ISS Welcome and Day Five Departure

Current ISS Expedition 58 crew members Annie McClain (U.S.), David Saint-Jacques (Canada), and Commander Oleg Kononenko (Russian Federation) were thrilled to help write history and welcome Crew Dragon to the space station.

The astronauts opened the hatch between the two spacecraft upon Dragon’s arrival. While designed to remain docked at ISS for up to 210 days, Dragon will only stay docked for five days on its inaugural uncrewed Demo-1 mission.

Crew Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean right on schedule at 8:45 a.m. ET on March 8. The spacecraft’s return to Earth notably occurred a little more than six hours after it separates from ISS.

Overall, the successful Crew Dragon round trip journey will help pave the way for the capsule’s inaugural manned flight, which is projected to take place in summer 2019.