On 30 May 2020, SpaceX became the first commercial company to launch astronauts into space. This marks the beginning of a new era of space travel in America. Since the end of NASA’s space shuttle program, they have had to rely on Russian space programmes to send their astronauts into orbit. But, for the first time since 2011, American astronauts have been launched in an American rocket from American soil.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived on the International Space Station (ISS) approximately 19 hours after take off. They were inside a vehicle known as ‘Crew Dragon’ which was launched by a rocket called Falcon 9. These two vehicles detached approximately 2.5 minutes after launch and Falcon 9 returned to a drone ship in the sea. 6 minutes later, Crew Dragon had successfully entered into orbit and was well on its way to the ISS. Crew Dragon is a reusable vehicle and Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, dubbed Falcon 9 ‘partially reusable’ which only adds to the benefits of these vehicles as it allows increased levels of sustainability.
Not only does this system give American scientists more control over their own space travel and research, it is also much cheaper than hiring seats aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. It is hoped that this will make space travel more of an ‘everyday’ practice; not one exclusively available to scientists and the super-rich. Crew Dragon can launch 4 crew members and carry in excess of 220 pounds of cargo, increasing the potential for scientific research aboard the ISS.
This historic space flight took place in the shadows of the coronavirus pandemic, with those interested told not to gather near the Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex, which was where the rocket took flight from. There was also a limit placed on how many spectators NASA could invite to watch the launch from the spaceport. Precautions were put in place for the astronauts too. Although they would normally be quarantined in the weeks leading up to their flight anyway, in these circumstances NASA further reduced the number of people Behnken and Hurley could come into contact with, and individuals with whom they had to have contact were instructed to wear masks.
Crew Dragon landed successfully at the ISS on 31 May and all is thought to be going well, but it hasn’t always been such good news for SpaceX or Musk himself. According to the Business Insider, Musk had a difficult childhood which involved being hospitalized by school bullies and the divorce of his parents. He also tragically lost his first-born son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in 2002 and was left with nothing in 2008/9 as SpaceX continuously lost money in its attempts to launch the rocket Falcon 1. During this time, Musk had to rely on personal loans just to get by. However, he is now a hugely successful entrepreneur thought to be worth over $38 billion. It has also been reported that superhero Iron Man was at least partly inspired by Musk’s life and achievements. It is fair to say his work is well and truly in the history books, despite significant personal and professional hardship.
The future of space travel is an exciting one, technology is always developing and it is hoped we will be able to explore new areas of space in the near future. There is still so much to learn about the solar system we are a part of and who knows, with the recent developments, it could be any one of us who makes the journey to these unique, forgein worlds.
NASA and SpaceX launch astronauts into new era of private spaceflight: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2244889-nasa-and-spacex-launch-astronauts-into-new-era-of-private-spaceflight/
SpaceX Launch: NASA astronauts begin historic mission on private spaceship: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-52855029
NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2: Crew Dragon Hatch Open: https://blogs.nasa.gov/commercialcrew/2020/05/31/nasas-spacex-demo-2-crew-dragon-hatch-open/
How billionaire Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk went from getting bullied as a child to becoming one of the most successful and controversial men in tech: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-rise-of-elon-musk-2016-7?r=US&IR=T