On Saturday, for the first time in history, NASA astronauts launched from American soil aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, marking the first commercial crew flight for NASA.
The spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Yesterday at 14:16 GMT (15:16 BST), 19 hours after leaving the Kennedy Space Center, the Dragon’s attachment to the International Space Station was confirmed.
Commenting on the launch, Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator, said, “Today a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth.”
“The launch of this commercial space system designed for humans is a phenomenal demonstration of American excellence and is an important step on our path to expand human exploration to the Moon and Mars.”
Known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, the mission is an end-to-end test flight to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking and landing operations.
The mission is SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon and its first test with astronauts aboard and will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to the station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme.
Elon Musk, Chief Engineer at SpaceX, said, “This is a dream come true for me and everyone at SpaceX. It is the culmination of an incredible amount of work by the SpaceX team, by NASA and by a number of other partners in the process of making this happen.”
SpaceX controlled the launch of the Flacon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4, the former space shuttle control room, which SpaceX has leased as its primary launch control centre.
As Crew Dragon ascended into space, SpaceX commanded the spacecraft from its mission control centre in Hawthorne, California. NASA teams are monitoring space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Now aboard the ISS, the crew will carry out tests to ensure that the spacecraft can remain docked at the ISS for up to 210 days in future missions in addition to performing research and other tasks at the space station.