NASA and SpaceX made history this evening, with the first successful operational launch of the new Crew Dragon capsule. The capsule, designed and built by SpaceX for NASA, will be used to ferry astronauts between Earth and the International Space Station (ISS).
This was notably the first time American astronauts had been launched from American soil since the shuttering of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. In the intervening years, NASA astronauts caught a ride to the ISS aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft, which was a considerable expense for the agency.
The Crew Dragon was launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with liftoff taking place at 7:27 p.m. ET on Sunday, November 15. It is carrying four astronauts on their way to the ISS: NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Japanese Space Agency (JAXA)’s Soichi Noguchi.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 returned to Earth and landed on the dron eship, so it can be reused in future.
Now, the crew will travel overnight and are expected to arrive at the space station on Monday evening, with the docking of the capsule with the ISS scheduled for 11 p.m. ET. The crew members will spend six months on the ISS, where they will join NASA’s Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.
The mission, called Crew-1, had been delayed several times due to a variety of factors. It was originally planned for a spooky October 31 launch date, but there was an issue with the Falcon 9 rocket engine that needed to be addressed. That was fixed in time for the mission to be certified, with the plan to launch on Saturday, November 14. But there was anotherbrief delay due to wind conditions, which could have caused problems for the recovery vehicles. But it seems that third time’s a charm, and the rescheduled launch went off tonight without a hitch.
This is the first full operational mission for the Crew Dragon capsule, following its successful test flight earlier this summer. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley made it safely to the ISS and back in the test flight, paving the way for the capsule’s regular use by NASA.
Now, NASA has its own method for transporting astronauts into space. This also marks the first operational mission of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which invites private companies to partner with NASA to develop and manage human transportation spacecraft. Another company, Boeing, is also working on a crew capsule, the Starliner, which is expected to perform its second uncrewed orbital test flight within the next few months.
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