SpaceX Successfully Launches NASA Astronauts into Orbit

SpaceX Successfully Launches NASA Astronauts into Orbit

SpaceX Successfully Launches NASA Astronauts into Orbit
Image Credits: The Next Web

On the 30th of May, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched into the orbit by SpaceX.

2020 marks the new era of human spaceflight. The Apollo missions from half a century ago provided us with a realistic opportunity to reach Mars by 1980s. However, this dream could not be fulfilled due to political turmoil.

Here we are in 2020 and the United States has opened a new chapter in its space adventures. On the 30th of May, astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley were launched into the orbit by SpaceX. They became the first astronauts to head into space from American soil, since 2011. This launch is the dream fulfillment of Elon Musk’s space company, since its inception in 2002.

The US space program was halted in 2011 after the Columbia Disaster. Since then, NASA astronauts have been relying on Russians to get into orbit, for $90 million a seat. SpaceX is the first private corporation to launch people into space. This flight is the result of a risky venture by NASA under the Obama administration. The authorities of the time decided to trust private sector companies to put astronauts in space.

The Launch

The launch happened at 3:22 pm at Cape Canaveral. Interestingly, the same pad was used for this flight from where the crew of Apollo 11 left for the moon.

The Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX lifted the Crew Dragon capsule into orbit. After 12 minutes into the flight, the booster rocket separated from the capsule and landed perfectly on a floating platform. Within 24 hours, the capsule docked with the International Space Station (ISS) automatically.

Despite NASA’s warnings (because of the COVID-19), fans lined the beaches to watch this historic moment. However, only a limited number of people were allowed at the Kennedy Space Center as a precautionary measure.

New Space Tech of SpaceX

The two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley are two of NASA’s most experienced astronauts. Both of them are former military pilots and have also flown two space shuttle missions previously. Having said that, this spaceflight is a completely different experience, even for them. The new spacecraft is fully autonomous and has a futuristic interior with Tesla-like touchscreens and advanced life support systems.

Similarly, the new spacesuits are also fitted with the latest technology. They are more comfortable, fire-resistant, and can be used to control Crew Dragon. Due to these amazing features, they look like something straight out of the movie “Interstellar”. According to the astronauts onboard the ISS, the new spacecraft has a ‘new car smell’ and flies ‘totally different’ than any previous NASA shuttle.

This was the first-ever crewed mission to the ISS done by SpaceX. Even after the delay in the initial launch date of 27th May, the mission (named Demo-2) went quite smoothly. The primary purpose of this mission was to test flight for crewed missions. In addition to that, it also restored human spaceflight to the US.

However, the SpaceX launch is not the only mission for 2020. NASA is currently working on the Artemis missions that will land a woman and then a man on Moon. The Artemis 1 mission is set for anywhere between November 2020 and early 2021.

Spacecraft and Crew Experience

The astronaut launch was extremely smooth until the ‘main engine cutoff’. Behnken mentioned that they were definitely riding a dragon as the capsule huffed and puffed all the way into orbit. The ascent was a bit bumpy because the rocket boosters had solid fuel. The ride became much smoother as Falcon 9 took over because it has liquid fuel.

The crew also acknowledged that the docking was extremely smooth. They said that it was so good that they didn’t even feel the spacecraft dock to the ISS. They described shuttle docking having a little more jolt, compared to the Crew Dragon.

The Mission

The astronauts will spend anywhere between one to four months aboard the International Space Station. After the mission, Crew Dragon spacecraft will return them to the Earth. The return flight will be a bit more uncomfortable because the capsule has to battle high speeds and temperatures.

Upon entering the atmosphere, the spacecraft’s parachutes will deploy as it splashes down in the Atlantic Ocean. From there, a SpaceX recovery ship will retrieve the astronauts within an hour. 

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