SpaceX has successfully launched its second crewed mission for NASA, sending four astronauts on a six-month journey to the International Space Station (ISS).
Today, Sunday, November 15 at 7.27 P.M. Eastern Time, the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft named “Resilience” lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida, having been delayed from yesterday owing to poor weather.
On board were NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Japan’s Soichi Noguchi. All have flown before except Glover, who will be the first African-American to take part in a long-duration mission on the ISS.
This was the second crewed flight for Elon Musk’s company, following the successful “Demo-2” mission in May this year that took two astronauts to the ISS on a test flight.
“Congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on today’s launch,” U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden said on Twitter.
“It’s a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination. I join all Americans and the people of Japan in wishing the astronauts Godspeed on their journey.”
Roughly nine minutes after the launch, the first stage of the rocket returned for a landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, a regular occurrence now on almost all SpaceX missions.
The second stage of the rocket continued to boost the capsule higher into orbit, where it will now take more than a day to reach the ISS, arriving tomorrow, Monday, November 16 at 11 P.M. Eastern Time.
Crew-1 is the first of six scheduled operational missions for NASA designed to take four astronauts at a time on long-duration stays to the space station.
Once the four astronauts on Crew-1 arrive at the ISS they will remain on board for about 180 days, performing experiments and research before returning to Earth in June 2021.
They will join a crew of three already onboard – NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russia’s Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov – raising the crew to seven and tripling the amount of science possible.
The successful launch signals another major milestone for SpaceX and NASA, as they continue to return spaceflight to U.S. soil. The Demo-2 mission was the first crewed American orbital launch since the final flight of the Space Shuttle in 2011.
SpaceX received $3.1 billion of funding from NASA to develop Crew Dragon, designed to replace the Space Shuttle and ferry astronauts to and from the ISS, along with Boeing and its delayed Starliner vehicle, which received $4.8 billion of funding and is expected to launch next year.
NASA’s aim was to outsource flights to low Earth orbit to these private companies, while it continues with its efforts to target further destinations like the Moon and Mars. It currently hopes to reach the former in 2024 with its Artemis program.
SpaceX, meanwhile, hopes to use its Crew Dragon spacecraft to master the art of human spaceflight. It has begun offering seats on the seven-seater spacecraft to paying space tourists, with its first commercial launch scheduled for next year.
It is also working on a much larger rocket, Starship, which it says will be capable of taking more than 100 people per launch to space. Ultimately, it hopes to use this rocket to take humans to Mars and even other destinations.
For now all eyes are on Crew Dragon, and with today’s successful launch, SpaceX has further cemented its status as the dominant force in commercial spaceflight. Its next crewed flight, Crew-2, the second of its six NASA missions, is scheduled to launch in March 2021.
Demo-2 might have been history in the making for SpaceX and NASA, but Crew-1 represents a paradigm shift. “It marks the end of the development phase of the system,” NASA’s director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, told reporters prior to the launch.
“With this milestone, NASA and SpaceX have changed the historical arc of human space transportation.”