It’s not the first time that men and women have been catapulted into space but NASA, SpaceX, and mankind reached a historic milestone last Saturday nonetheless. May 30, 2020 will be remembered by many as the first time NASA astronauts made such a journey aboard a SpaceX commercial spacecraft. That was literally only half the journey and, Sunday morning, that lucky pair made history again, this time being the first to board the International Space Station from that same commercially-made capsule.
This moment in space science and space travel history is one of those iconic small steps that mark the beginning of a giant leap. NASA has, of course, launched many government-commissioned rockets bearing humans to the ISS and SpaceX has launched many commercially-made rockets bearing non-human cargo to the same. It is, however, the first time that those elements finally converged together.
The logistics of launching a rocket alone is already a terrifying risk, let alone one that carried humans on board. But that’s exactly the risk that SpaceX needed to take if it wants to fulfill its ambition of making commercial space travel more economic. Not only does it need to prove it could land and reuse rockets (which it successfully did again, by the way), it needed to prove it could safely carry humans on those rockets as well.
The launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule was years in the making and was even delayed by a few days due to unfavorable weather. It finally pushed through without incident and the Falcon 9 safely launched veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley as well a dinosaur plushie into space before landing safely back on SpaceX’s floating droneship. All three also made safely onboard the ISS after the historic docking.
Of course, one successful launch won’t be enough for SpaceX and it is undoubtedly making preparations for its next crewed missions. That is scheduled not later than the end of August and raises the stakes higher by making astronaut “taxi flights” to and from the space station.