The United States began a new era of human space journey on Saturday as a private company ‘SpaceX‘ for the first time launched astronauts into orbit, nearly a decade after the US government retired the renowned space shuttle program in 2011.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft took off Saturday afternoon at 3:22 p.m. EDT carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’S Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is the same launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, that was used through the Apollo missions to the moon a half-century ago.
The American President, Donald Trump, and Vice President, Mike Pence watched and cheered as the countdown ticked to zero, and the engines of a Falcon 9 rocket roared to life. Trump, who watched from a rooftop at the space center, called it “an inspiration for our country” after the ship took off. The President stated, “Today’s launch makes clear the commercial space industry is the future”.
“We have created the envy of the world and will soon be landing on Mars and will soon have the greatest weapons ever imagined in history,” he said.
Jim Bridenstine NASA Administrator said, “Today a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth”. He expressed his gratitude and said, “I thank and congratulate Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and the SpaceX and NASA teams for this significant achievement for the United States. The launch of this commercial space system intended for humans is a phenomenal demonstration of American excellence and is an important step on our path to extend human exploration to the Moon and Mars.”
The mission was scheduled to be launched on May 27 but was called off due to adverse weather conditions caused by the Tropical Storm Bertha, 16 minutes and 53 seconds prior to the launch.
The mission is named as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2. It is an end-to-end test flight to ratify the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations. SpaceX’s this mission is the second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and first test with astronauts aboard, which will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Elon Musk, chief engineer at SpaceX said, “This is a dream come true for me and everyone at SpaceX. It is the culmination of an incredible amount of work by the SpaceX team, by NASA, and by a number of other partners in the process of making this happen. You can look at this as the results of a hundred thousand people roughly when you add up all the suppliers and everyone working incredibly hard to make this day happen.”
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is scheduled to dock to the ISS at 10:29 a.m. EDT on Sunday, May 31. NASA Television is providing an open-ended coverage of the trip to the space station.
Hurley and Behnken are expected to remain at the International Space Station for several weeks, perhaps even a few months. The astronauts received extra training for this purpose, including, for Behnken, a few practices run in the giant pool at Johnson Space Center, where astronauts rehearse spacewalking.
If the mission goes sound, the next crew is expected to fly in August, and SpaceX could start selling seats on the capsule to other customers beyond NASA.