After a few setbacks, including a few days’ delay due to unfavorable winds, SpaceX once again made history, this time along with NASA. More than just launching humans into space again aboard its Crew Dragon capsule, the Crew-1 mission represents an important milestone for NASA and the US. For the first time since 2011, an official crew rotation is being launched from the US using a rocket made by and in the US, opening the doors for more missions, both commercial and government, provided everything goes according to plan, of course.
The very successful SpaceX Demo-2 launch and return that happened back in May was the company’s historic first mission that carried humans on board. This was the result that NASA was waiting for for years to move its Commercial Crew Program towards its final stages. Before that, however, SpaceX needs to prove it can make more regular and official missions, including this milestone in US space science history.
Ever since the US’ Space Shuttle program was ended in 2011, all of NASA’s missions relied on Russia’s Soyuz craft to take its astronauts to the International Space Station, for example. While it fostered international cooperation in space, few will argue that there are definitely benefits to being independent in the long run. Rather than relying on its capabilities alone, however, NASA initiated the Commercial Crew Program so that it could hitch a ride on rockets developed by commercial companies like Boeing and, of course, SpaceX.
The Crew-1 successfully launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at around 7:30 p.m. Eastern and SpaceX reported that the Crew Dragon capsule carrying the astronauts successfully separated from the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage at 7:41 p.m. It’s probably no longer extraordinary by now but it still bears noting that the rocket’s first stage booster safely landed on SpaceX’s “Just Read the Instructions” droneship.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule currently bears only four astronauts, three from NASA and one from Japan’s JAXA, though the total capacity is for seven humans to be on board. If this mission proves to be a success, NASA will most likely fill up the room soon as the previous Space Shuttle carried up to eight. The Crew-1 is expected to dock with the International Space Station on Monday, November 16 at 11 p.m. Eastern.