By now, SpaceX is quite famous for launching rockets that land safely back on earth to be reused again. Last Sunday, however, it let a Falcon 9 rocket explode and actually got congratulated for it. That’s really because the expensive rocket wasn’t the focus of the launch. Instead, SpaceX was testing the Crew Dragon’s escape system that could hopefully save even more precious lives when the capsule does make its first manned flight in a few months.
All of SpaceX’s rockets so far only carried the risk of expenses if things go wrong, and sometimes they did. All of its missions have been unmanned but, just like rival Blue Origin, it has always had its eyes on carrying humans to space. To do that in a way that will satisfy NASA, authorities, and the public at large, SpaceX will have to prove not only the safety of the capsule but also its emergency systems.
That was what Sunday’s abort test successfully showed when the Crew Dragon landed in the Atlantic Ocean in one piece. The capsule separated from the Falcon 9 a minute and a half after launch and the rocket exploded shortly after. It was, after all, meant to test if the Crew Dragon and its human crew could separate quickly from the rocket in case of an emergency and also land safely back to Earth.
Given the success, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that the Crew Dragon could have its first manned test flight by Spring. Musk also suggested the company is looking into devising a way for the capsules to land on a special directly ship rather than in the water. Musk estimates that the crewed launch could take place in the second quarter.
That, of course, still depends on whether it gets the clearance to take NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station and back. NASA wants to see two more tests, which also means two more destroyed Falcon 9 rockets. But, of course, you can never be too safe when human lives are already directly involved.