SpaceX

SpaceX Launch: 4 Astronauts Soared into Outer Space

SpaceX Launch: Sunday, a SpaceX spacecraft carrying four astronauts soared into outer space, marking the beginning of what NASA hopes would be years of the business helping to keep fully staffed the International Space Station. NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese space agency astronaut, are now in orbit, traveling on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule scheduled to dock with the ISS at 11 pm ET on Monday. That means that as the spacecraft slowly maneuvers towards its target, the crew will spend 27 hours in orbit.

SpaceX Launch: 4 Astronauts Soared into Outer Space
CREDIT: CNN

If the Crew Dragon were able to launch on Saturday, as NASA first expected, the journey would have been shorter because the ISS would have lined up in such a way that the spacecraft would be able to reach the space station in around eight hours. But bad weather brought on by Hurricane Eta forced launch officials to cancel Sunday night’s takeoff.

The capsule has a functioning toilet, and while SpaceX and NASA officials in Houston, Texas, and Hawthorne, California, watch over the trip, the astronauts will have time to get some sleep as the fully autonomous vehicle maneuvers through orbit.

This is a milestone flight for NASA and the company since it is SpaceX ‘s first fully operational crew mission, following a May test mission to the space station carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, both of whom were test pilots.

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But this mission is not a test: last week, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was officially certified as a spacecraft worthy of transporting people, paving the way for it to start making the journey relatively routine, carrying astronauts from a variety of backgrounds.

SpaceX Launch: For instance, on this mission, both Walker and Noguchi have physics backgrounds. During their six-month stay on the ISS, the Crew-1 team is slated to perform all kinds of studies, including investigations into how microgravity affects human heart tissue. They will also try to grow radishes in space to expand on studies designed to find out how food could be grown to support exploration missions in deep space.

SpaceX Launch: 4 Astronauts Soared into Outer Space
CREDIT: CNN

After SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced on Twitter that he was experiencing symptoms and was being checked for Covid-19, Sunday’s mission was briefly called into question, leading NASA to carry out a contact tracing attempt to ensure that no vital personnel for the launch may have been exposed.

Officials said that by Friday night, the effort was over, and they had no reason for concern. On Saturday, Musk said that he most definitely” had a “moderate Covid situation.”

After the retirement of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, the United States went nearly a decade without the opportunity to send astronauts into space, and NASA was forced to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get astronauts to the ISS, which the space agency claims left the multibillion-dollar orbital laboratory understaffed. In 2009, as many as 13 astronauts were onboard at one time. On several occasions, that number has occasionally dropped to as low as three, leaving fewer individuals to help run experiments and help keep the space station well maintained. It will grow to seven with this launch.

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Under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX designed the Crew Dragon capsule that for the first time in the history of the space agency, turned over most of the design, production and testing of new human-rated spacecraft to the private sector. In order to get the job done, NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing fixed-price contracts worth $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion respectively. Due to major software problems found during a test mission last year, production of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is still delayed, but officials predict the vehicle may be in service next year.

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The companies will also be able to use their aircraft to transport visitors, private researchers or anyone else who can afford a $50 million-plus fare, and these vehicles will technically be operated by SpaceX and Boeing, with NASA acting as a customer purchasing missions for astronauts.

SpaceX Launch: 4 Astronauts Soared into Outer Space
SPACEX

The decision was not without controversy, particularly in the early days of the Commercial Crew Program. But the success of Crew Dragon could be seen as a big win for people at NASA who expect to rely more heavily on that contracting style to help achieve the goals of the space agency.

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