SpaceX Just Made History With the Launch of Its Crew Dragon Spacecraft

Pat Wise
March 4, 2019

NASA has awarded SpaceX and Boeing Co $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems to launch astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time since the US Space Shuttle was retired from service in 2011.

The mission is a test launch with only a dummy on board the capsule ahead of a manned flight scheduled for later this year.

Dragon is the first American-made spacecraft capable of carrying a crew to pull up to the space station in eight years.

If the six-day demo goes well, SpaceX could launch two astronauts this summer under NASA's commercial crew programme. The mission is incredibly important for both SpaceX and NASA, but you're going to have to get up pretty darn early in the morning to see it take off.

"A new generation of space flight starts now with the arrival of @SpaceX's Crew Dragon to the @Space_Station", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted.

"Congratulations to all of the teams on a successful docking", NASA astronaut Anne McClain radioed from the station.

NASA is anxious for reliable transit to and from the space station.

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Dragon 2 will be the first SpaceX vehicle to attempt an autonomous docking in orbit. While Falcon 9's have completed many successful lift-offs, today's was special because it is the first outing for SpaceX's new Crew Dragon module, created to take astronauts into orbit. Docking occurred at 05:51 EST (10:51 UTC), and the crew officially opened Dragon's interior hatch at 08:07 EST (13:07 UTC).

Crew Dragon is also carrying 400 pounds of supplies and equipment, which will be unloaded once the module autonomously docks at the space station.

"I know you heard the applause and all the clapping that went along with the accomplishment today and so it's just one more milestone that gets us ready for our flight coming up here".

The dummy riding in the capsule - which SpaceX's Hans Koenigsmann prefers to call a "smartie" - has been nicknamed Ripley in honour of the character played by Sigourney Weaver in the "Alien" movies. The Starliner is now due to make its first uncrewed test flight no earlier than April, and its first crewed flight no earlier than August.

NASA is providing eight billion USA dollars for SpaceX and Boeing to build and operate these new systems. After the shuttle program was shut down in July 2011 following a 30-year run, Nasa began outsourcing the logistics of its space missions.

A concern over Dragon's docking abort procedures was raised by the Russian space agency Roscosmos, one of NASA's global partners in the ISS program. "NASA now pays $82 million per seat".

To do that, the capsule is fitted with life-support systems, a fourth parachute (instead of the usual three) and more powerful thrusters to help control the vessel, should anything go wrong.

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