Cape Canaveral, Florida (AP) – SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station on Sunday in NASA’s first full-fledged taxi ride by a private company.
The Falcon rocket blasted off at night from the Kennedy Space Center with three Americans and one Japanese, the second crew launched by SpaceX. The summit’s Dragon capsule – which its crew has dubbed Resilience in light of this year’s many challenges, most notably COVID-19 – reached orbit after nine minutes. It is scheduled to arrive at the space station late on Monday and stay there until spring.
“By working together during these difficult times, I have inspired the nation, the world, and in no good part of the name of this amazing vehicle, Resilience,” said Commander Mike Hopkins just before take off.
Once in orbit, he radioed: “It was one flight.”
After being sidelined by the Corona virus itself, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk had to monitor the measure from afar. He has tweeted that he “most likely” has a mild case of COVID-19. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center policy requires anyone who test positive for coronavirus to quarantine and remain isolated.
The launch on Sunday comes just a few months after SpaceX’s two-pilot test flight. What NASA hopes will be a long series of crew sessions between the United States and the space station, starting after years of delay. More people means more scientific research in the orbiting laboratory, according to officials.
Cheers and applause erupted at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California, after the capsule reached orbit and landed the first stage of the booster on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Musk chirped with one red heart.
At Kennedy, he was replaced by SpaceX head Gwen Shotwell. She did not reveal Musk’s whereabouts, but said he was “closely linked to the launch.”
“I have a series of texts to prove this,” Shotwell told reporters.
The flight to the space station – 27 and a half hours door-to-door – should be fully automated, although the crew can control if needed. SpaceX had to deal with pressure pump spikes once the capsule was in orbit, but the problem was quickly resolved.
As COVID-19 continues to spread, NASA has continued the safety precautions in place to launch the SpaceX crew in May. The astronauts went into quarantine with their families in October. All launch personnel wore masks, and the number of Kennedy guests was limited. Even the two astronauts on the SpaceX crew’s maiden flight stayed at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, joined NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein to witness the launch.
“I didn’t start breathing until about a minute after he took off,” Pence said during a stop at SpaceX Launch Control to congratulate the workers.
Outside the gates of the space center, spectators crowded the nearby beaches and towns. NASA is concerned that the take-off at the end of the week – along with the dramatic night launch – could trigger a superpowers event. They urged the crowds to wear masks and keep safe distances. Similar calls for SpaceX’s first crew launch on May 30 have gone unheeded.
The three-man crew of one, led by Colonel in the Air Force, Hopkins, called their capsule “resilience” not only for the pandemic, but also for racial injustice and controversial politics. It’s as diverse as the upcoming space crews, including physicist Shannon Walker, Marine Cmdr. Victor Glover, the first black astronaut on a long-range space station mission, and Japan’s Swishi Noguchi, who became the first person in nearly 40 years to call three types of spacecraft.
They set off to Teslas’ launch pad – another Musk company – after exchanging children and cuddling hands with their children and spouses, who had gathered at the car’s open windows.
Coupled with its sleek design and hi-tech features, the Dragon capsule is very spacious – it can hold up to seven people. Previous space capsules were launched with no more than three capsules. The extra chamber in this new capsule was used for science experiments and supplies.
The four astronauts will be joined by two Russians and an American who traveled to the space station last month from Kazakhstan. The orbital position flew over the launch site just half a minute before take-off.
The first stage booster is expected to be recycled by SpaceX for the next crew launch. This is currently targeting the end of March, which will establish newly launched astronauts to return to Earth in April.
Shotwell said that within the next 15 months, SpaceX should be flying nearly seven Dragon missions for NASA, either from crew or cargo.
While Bridenstein noted that it was a great start, he emphasized: “This is a six-month mission and it is the first of many.”
“When you fly into space, there are always risks and we will always be diligent,” he added.
SpaceX and NASA wanted the booster to recover so badly that they delayed the launch attempt one day, to give the floating platform time to reach its position in the Atlantic Ocean over the weekend after rough seas.
Boeing, NASA’s other crew carrier, is delayed by a year. A repeat of the test flight plagued with software last December without an interrupted crew until sometime early next year, with the astronaut’s first flight of the Starliner capsule not expected before the summer.
NASA turned to private companies to ferry cargo and crew to the space station, after the shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. SpaceX qualified for both. With Kennedy back in the astronaut launch operation, NASA could stop purchasing seats on Russian Soyuz rockets. The last one cost $ 90 million.
SpaceX’s first crew leader, Doug Hurley, noted that it’s not just about saving money or lightening the training burden for crews.
“The bottom line: I think it would be better for us to travel from the United States if we could do so,” he told The Associated Press last week.
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