On 30 May, aerospace company SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft from NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Centre. This launch, known as Demo-2, is the final test for the company’s human spaceflight system. The launch of the Crew Dragon capsule marks the send-off of astronauts from American soil in American technology into space for the first time in almost ten years. Using safe and advanced technology, SpaceX aims to further mankind’s knowledge of space exploration, and the Dragon mission is the first step towards reaching that goal.
What makes this launch so historic is the fact that SpaceX is the first privately-owned company to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). By launching the capsule, SpaceX begins to commercialise space travel, opening up new possibilities of industry, such as space tourism.
Space flights are an expensive affair, due to the costs of materials and the expertise needed to build and test a rocket. SpaceX uses reusable booster technology to engineer spacecraft, which is significant because it means that the aircraft can be reused, allowing for an exponential reduction to the cost of sending crafts into space.
“Crew Dragon capsule marks the send-off of astronauts from American soil in American technology into space for the first time in almost ten years.“
The two astronauts aboard the spacecraft were Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, colonels in the US Air Force and US Marine Corps, respectively. Both astronauts have been to space twice before the launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. Behnken holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from Caltech University and Hurley graduated magna cum laude with honours to earn a B.S.E. in civil engineering at Tulane University. The astronauts will remain at the International Space Station for a period of 30 to 90 days.
31 May marked the successful dock of the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the ISS, and the capsule docked 19 hours after launch. While the astronauts were prepared for a manual docking, this was not necessary as the capsule docked automatically. In a radio report to mission control in Texas, Behnken affirmed that the capsule was a ‘slick vehicle’ and that they had sufficient air flow. A splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean – between 29 June and 28 August – is planned for the capsule’s return to Earth.
SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, stated that after 18 years, his goal of sending humans into space was finally achieved. The successful launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon coupled with the smooth docking at the ISS marks a momentous event in the field of space exploration. While the world is enveloped by the COVID-19 pandemic, the new developments in space travel have allowed the public to witness a positive and hopeful moment in history. While the world remains at home, SpaceX and NASA are sending humans far from it, and into space beyond planet Earth. The livestream of the launch and the events at the ISS can be viewed on SpaceX’s YouTube channel.