SpaceX successfully launches first demo of Crew Dragon capsule to ISS
Reid Wiseman: 'This is the Golden Age of the next generation of space travel'
HOUSTON – It's a huge milestone in American space exploration history -- the launching of the SpaceX Crew Dragon, a space capsule mounted on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which boosted Crew Dragon into space at exactly 1:49 a.m. CT in Cape Canaveral, Florida at the Kennedy Space Center.
The test flight, dubbed Demo-1, is a critical step for NASA's goal to eventually launch astronauts into space from American soil. Crew Dragon atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket took off and successfully detached from the rocket 11 minutes into the test flight. It is now on its way to the International Space Station, a step in the right direction for the United States to reduce its dependence on Russia for transport to the ISS.
"It's been 17 years to get to this point from 2002 until now and an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people that got to this point," SpaceX CEO and Lead Designer Elon Musk said in a post-launch news conference Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA, SpaceX team members and members of the space community cheered at every heart-stopping stage of the launch that went off without a hitch. The rocket launched left a bright orange trail of fire that lit up the overnight sky.
"To be frank, I'm a little emotionally exhausted. It was super stressful, but it worked," Musk said. "The launch went as expected, so far everything is nominal. The Dragon 2 or Crew Dragon is a fundamental redesign hardly a part in common with Dragon 1, which in retrospect I'll probably change, actually. There is a mass amount of new equipment on the vehicle and everything appears to be working fine."
The capsule will dock at the ISS early morning 5 a.m. CT Sunday and will remain docked at the station until early Friday morning, when it begins its journey back to Earth, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.
"The spacecraft will literally fly onto the space station and attach itself, so that's certainly going to be something new that we've never done before," Musk said.
However, one potential issue Musk is watching closely is the re-entry back to Earth.
"Because the back shell is not symmetric in the way that Dragon 1 is, it's not sort of a smooth conic like Dragon 1. Dragon 1 you've got the launch escape thruster pods, that could potentially cause a raw instability on re-entry, but I think it's unlikely. We've run simulations a thousand times, but this is a possibility," Musk said.
Now the hope is that all goes well. If so, SpaceX plans to fly astronauts into space with the Crew Dragon, potentially in July.
NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman said the SpaceX Crew Dragon Launch will make for huge strides in America's quest to do research out of this world.
"This is the golden age of the next generation of space travel," Wiseman said.
Wiseman, a former U.S. Navy commander, was one of the astronauts to head to the International Space Station in 2014, and he said this operation will help significantly in researching conditions to make sure things are safe for human flight.
"This is an important mission because the next time they fly this mission, (astronauts) will be on it," Wiseman said.
The inaugural flight of Crew Dragon has no crew and is designed to validate end-to-end systems and capabilities, leading to certification to fly the crew. The test flight breaks boundaries. This is part of NASA's public-private partnership program, the Commercial Crew Program.
"It'll be the first time since we stopped flying the Space Shuttle (that) we're preparing to launch humans from Florida, and so I think for everybody in Houston it's exciting. For everyone at NASA, it's incredible," Wiseman said.
The Commercial Crew Program's goal is to enable safe, reliable and cost-effective crew transportation to and from the ISS. NASA can then focus its efforts on deep space exploration.
"We asked SpaceX and Boeing to build us rockets to get us to the International Space Station, and then they went off and did it. This is the first time that we're going to fly on rockets that were designed by commercial entities, private business. It's government-funded, but it's not a government program per se, and the companies went off, and they have done it. It's amazing."
"I'd like to also express great appreciation for NASA. SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start," Musk said.
The moon and Mars continue to be sought-after destinations for NASA, but for now, the destination for Crew Dragon will be in lower Earth orbit at the ISS. The capsule will be carrying 400 pounds of equipment.
"For NASA, we want to see its on-orbit performance, how the systems are going to be working together," Kathy Leuders, NASA crew vehicle manager, said in a pre-launch debrief at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday.
"We're NASA. We love backups. Now that we're going to have Boeing, SpaceX and Russia all launching humans to the ISS, that's just healthy for any space operation," Wiseman said.
Inside the capsule is "Ripley," a mannequin that was fitted with sensors to give scientists an idea of how humans may be impacted by the mission. The capsule is designed to hold up to seven people. SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted a picture of the mannequin.
"We would like to have a crew up at the Space Station by the end of 2019," Leuders said.
Crew Dragon is designed to dock on its own at the ISS after the Falcon 9 detaches in space. The ISS has enabled astronauts to conduct critical research in space.
"It's in lower Earth orbit. This is our premier laboratory to do research on humans and materials to enable us (to travel) out to Mars and hopefully beyond, so the work that we're doing up there does help people on Earth. All the science that we are executing is for the people on Earth and for deep space exploration," Wiseman said.
In case you missed it- PT2 Successful liftoff at the NASA-Kennedy Space Center. This just happened at 1:49AM CT - SpaceX’s #CrewDragon atop a Falcon 9 rocket headed to the International Space Station. NASA TV showed the launch! @KPRC2 NASA's Johnson Space Center NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration SpaceXPosted by KPRC2 Rose-Ann Aragon on Saturday, March 2, 2019
"The SpaceX team is working, and then, when it gets close to the International Space Station, then NASA will take over the Mission Control functions," Wiseman said. "The amount of simulations we've been doing in buildup, the amount of readiness reviews, management discussions ... all across the U.S., everybody is assembled in Florida and the work has been pretty deep," Wiseman said.
Boeing is also expected to do a demo launch for its commercial capsule in July or August.
"I truly believe that the strongest nations are the ones that go out and explore," Wiseman said. "Going further than anyone has, that is kind of the point of humanity."
For Wiseman, Saturday's launch is just the beginning of proving that the sky is never the limit.
"If every single person could get off our planet and look back at it, it would change the way we think about everything," Wiseman said. "We are really on a planet that orbits the sun. It's a beautiful thing to get to look at, and we are starting to open the doors to make that a possibility for just many, many people."
He hopes that these missions inspire future generations.
"You really never know when you're going to make that connection with someone ... some young person out there who is going to have the next incredible idea, and the thing that you do -- that one little thing -- you don't even mean to mentor them, you don't even mean to touch their lives, but they see something great, and they want to be a part of something great. Even if they don't join the space program, they can go off and develop some nuclear power plant -- anything, and they can improve the world," Wiseman said. "Sparking that enthusiasm in our youth is, to me, very important."
To watch the launch, click here.
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