The space company SpaceX launched the Crow Dragon capsule on Saturday at 9:22 pm (Netherlands time), with two American astronauts on board. The launch is historic: not only is it the first time since 2011 that American astronauts have taken off from the territory of the United States, but also the first commercial launch of an astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS).
The mission was still exciting to continue: Just like on Wednesday, bad weather was looming along the Florida coast. Earlier on Saturday, it estimated the likelihood of weather suitable for launching at 50 percent. About 45 minutes before launch, it became apparent the weather had been declared good enough for launch.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were escorted to launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center launch site near Cape Canaveral, Florida, at around 6:00 pm. At about 7:20 PM, the opening of the Dragon capsule behind the astronauts closed.
After about two hours, the engines of the Falcon 9 rocket ignited and Behnken and Hurley left Earth. About ten minutes after launch, the mission launch vehicle landed on the Of Course I Still Love You floating landing pad.
The launch was scheduled to take place on Wednesday
In fact, the launch was supposed to take place last Wednesday. However, the mission was postponed due to bad weather. The mission leadership found that continuing to launch was very risky. About fifteen minutes before take off, the command was given to stop.
The launch is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program, as the organization has entered into launch contracts with commercial parties SpaceX and Boeing. The astronaut capsule from Boeing is still waiting. A test with this capsule failed last December because it was unable to reach the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon capsule at the Kennedy Space Center launch site. (Photo: Pro Shots / SpaceX / SIPA USA)
The dragon will dock on the International Space Station in about 19 hours
Behnken and Hurley have to spend about nineteen hours in the capsule to be able to dock in the International Space Station. This could happen sooner or later, depending on how well everything is running and whether NASA and SpaceX want additional checks.
Once the dragon docks at the International Space Station, Behnken and Hurley and stays on board for 30 to 119 days. This depends on the work that they have to do on board. After 119 days, Dragon Solar Panels will likely be affected.
Astronauts Doug Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken (right). (Image: NASA / Bill Ingalls)
The Dragon takes off from the same platform as the Lunar Astronauts
Launch Complex 39A has great historical value for US space travel. The Apollo astronauts who set foot on the moon in the 1960s and 1970s took off from this complex. The Space Shuttle also later departed from this platform, including the last space shuttle mission ever: STS-135. Since then, SpaceX, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has leased the platform and launched several of its own rockets into space from the 39A complex.
Astronaut Doug Hurley was a STS-135 crew member and thus one of the last Americans to be brought to the International Space Station from “home”. On Saturday, he became one of the first to return to space from the United States, and one of the first to travel to the International Space Station in a commercial capsule.
With the success of the launch, the United States and Russia are the only two countries currently able to actively transport astronauts into space. China itself is also working on a space program for astronauts.