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SpaceX celebrates the launch of their first manned mission

Written by Science

On May 30th SpaceX celebrated the launch of their very first manned mission. This comes eighteen years after CEO Elon Musk founded the company with the ultimate aim of creating affordable space travel, to aid the eventual colonisation of Mars. 

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were on board a shuttle which trials a new capsule system, which reached the International Space Station the next day; both astronauts have had twenty years of training, and have been launched into space twice.

Both astronauts have had twenty years of training, and have been launched into space twice.

Hurley and Behnken were aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew Dragon is a spacecraft developed from an initial design Dragon 1, which was launched twenty times over the past decade to deliver cargo to the ISS. It’s a capsule design designed to carry up to seven crew members, and equipped with sixteen thrusters, delivering an immense amount of force in order to propel the Crew Dragon through the vacuum of space.

This is a significant launch for SpaceX, as Musk gets closer to his goal of commercially viable space travel, but also for NASA; this was the first example of the organisation using a more ‘commercial’ model as they stop owning shuttles they use and instead opting for a ‘taxi’ service facilitated by SpaceX. Since NASA retired its shuttles in 2011 the agency has had to launch their astronauts aboard Russian spacecraft, but now NASA can use SpaceX’s spacecraft instead. It also theoretically means that anyone can utilise this service and jettison into orbit, provided they can hand over enough money.

This is a significant launch for SpaceX, as Musk gets closer to his goal of commercially viable space travel

Musk commented after the launch: “I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly; […] it’s been 18 years working towards this goal, so it’s hard to believe that it’s happened. I think this is something that’s particularly important in the United States but appeals to everyone throughout the world who has within them the spirit of exploration.”

The astronauts Hurley and Behnken were responsible for monitoring the docking system as they approached the ISS, and during their stay on the Space Station will perform tests on the Crew Dragon. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was retrieved three days ago and at the time of writing it is deemed unlikely to be used again, but it is probable that the company will want to retain the rocket as some sort of historical artefact.

Provided everything continues to go well, we can expect SpaceX to embark on six more ‘operational’ missions to the International Space Station; this is the contract they are tied to fulfil by NASA.

Last modified: 9th June 2020

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