A collaboration between SpaceX, NASA, and Kennedy Space Center made history for the first time in a decade after their successful launch at 3:22 p.m. of two astronauts into Earth's orbit. The astronauts are headed to space to link up with the International Space Station, which orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth and travels about 17,000 miles per hour. ISS has orbited Earth for two decades with its primary operators being Russia and The United States.
However, 240 astronauts from 19 countries have visited the station over the years. Usually, six people are aboard, but right now there are only three; NASA's NASA's Christopher Cassidy and Russia's Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. Countless experiments have been carried out there in microgravity from the human body's response to being in space to research on medications.
The rocket lifted off from "PAD 39A" at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County, Florida. The same PAD has been used for earlier missions, such as the first moon landing in 1969.
The two veteran astronauts in the capsule are Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53. Employees of NASA, but have also been working with SpaceX and trained to fly the Crew Dragon Capsule, the fifth spacecraft design after the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle vehicles. The aim is for the two of them to be in space one to three months with the maximum length being 110 days. The astronauts will spend 19 hours aboard the spacecraft before arriving at the ISS, and of course, there is a bathroom aboard as well.
Robert Behnken, on the left, and Douglas Hurley.
Crew Dragon is 13 feet in diameter capsule, equipped with seven seats and touchscreen controls. The capsule is fully autonomous, thus the astronauts are mainly required to monitor the systems and keep in touch with mission control unless something goes wrong. It has also been suggested by SpaceX, that each Crew Dragon could also have multiple trips to space, meaning an improvement in the reuse of supplies as well. SpaceX has its strongest efforts in regards to reuse with Starships, which is a gargantuan spacecraft in the early stages of development that is hoped to send humans to live on Mars in the future.
As required, SpaceX ensured that Crew Dragon has only a 1 in 270 chance of catastrophic failure after 135 missions with only two shuttle tragedies giving a failure rate of 1 in every 68 missions.
The Crew Dragon itself will ride into orbit on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and thus the astronauts require an aerial "Crew access arm" to board the vehicle. Behnken and Hurley carried a symbolic piece of art as well as a composite photo honoring the 2020 graduates with them on this journey.
This launch occurred during a pandemic and the CEO of SpaceX, Elon Musk has faced criticism due to his spreading of misinformation and opinions in regards to the coronavirus. However, NASA supported this mission, due to ISS needing to be fully staffed with US astronauts at all times to keep the giant orbiting laboratory and its operations running smoothly. Thus, NASA explained the extra precautions they have made during this pandemic to keep everyone safe, such as keeping the two astronauts in quarantine together and implementing additional safety measures to keep supplies and the environment clean and under supervision.
Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission animation.
A Flight Escape Demonstration on January 19 to test Crew Dragon's launch escape capabilities.
Cover Image Credit: https://www.spacex.com/