Space, the final frontier…a frontier we haven’t been able to reach from American soil since the last space shuttle flew nearly 9 years ago. But that looks to change thanks to a successful test of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon earlier this month.
Perched atop a Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon was launched into a beautiful pre-dawn sky from Cape Canaveral, Floriada on March 2nd.
With a crew consisting solely of a dummy astronaut named Ripley, and a stuffed Earth plush toy, the capsule was also carrying supplies for those aboard the ISS.
Elon Musk, having dreamed of this moment since he started SpaceX in 2002, felt honored to have the Crew Dragon launch from Pad 39A. This is the very same launch pad from which the NASA Apollo moon missions took flight, as well as the last space shuttle mission back in 2011.
“Thank you for letting us do that,” Musk told NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine.
“Thank you for refurbishing it,” Bridenstine replied, referring to SpaceX’s upgrade to the launch site.
As one might expect, this was a little overwhelming for Musk, after having suffered so many failures early on with SpaceX test launches.
Back in those early days, Musk felt there was maybe only a 10% chance of SpaceX ever getting anything into orbit. “I’m a little emotionally exhausted. It’s super stressful, but it worked, so far,” Musk said in a post-launch press conference at Kennedy Space Center.
And the success continued!
On March 3rd, Demo-1, as the mission is being called, docked with the ISS in a display of remote precision that had everyone cheering. You can see highlights of the launch and docking here.
After having spent 5 days in space, delivering 400lbs of supplies to the space station, the Demo-1 mission ended, and the Crew Dragon saw success once again as it splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Florida early this morning. You can see its re-entry and touchdown here.
All of this helps pave the way for SpaceX to start plans for sending crewed flights into orbit this summer.
“The whole goal of SpaceX was crewed spaceflight. Improved space exploration technologies,” says Musk. “That’s actually the full name of the company, Space Exploration Technologies.”
But SpaceX is not alone in its endeavors. It is one of two companies contracted with NASA to fly astronauts to and from the ISS. Boeing, the other company working with NASA, is developing the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft that looks to launch astronauts into space using the Atlas V rockets.
Like SpaceX, Boeing plans to test uncrewed flights and in-flight abort systems before sending humans into orbit.
In fact, Starliner’s first uncrewed test mission to the ISS could likely launch as early as next month. Boeing will be testing the capsule’s emergency escape test system and, if successful, the first crewed demonstration flight could occur as early as May and then again in August of this year.
In the meantime, SpaceX is looking to launch its first crewed flight, called Demo-2, as early as July.