SpaceX returns human spaceflight capabilities to the United States as Crew Dragon docks to the Space Station

by Evelyn Arevalo May 31, 2020

SpaceX returns human spaceflight capabilities to the United States as Crew Dragon docks to the Space Station

SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk in 2002, launched its first crewed mission on May 30, it made history because it is also the first time NASA launches astronauts from American soil in nearly a decade. The mission is referred to as Demo-2, it is a test demonstration mission in which veteran NASA Astronauts Robert “Bob” Behnken and Douglas “Doug” Hurley tested out all of the spacecraft's functions to certify it as a safe vehicle to conduct future operational missions. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, propelling Crew Dragon into low Earth orbit.

Source: All Images by NASA and SpaceX

Musk wholeheartedly said during a conference after the successful launch–“…Getting astronauts to orbit after almost a decade, I think this is something that should really get people [closed fist to the chest] right in the heart - of anyone who has any spirit of exploration. The United States is a distillation of the human spirit of exploration, I think this is something that is particularly important in the United States, but it appeals to everyone throughout the world who has within them the spirit of exploration,” Musk said, “I am really quite overcome with emotion on this day, its kinda’ hard to talk frankly. Its been 18 years working towards this goal.”

 

 

SpaceX returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States today, May 31, as Crew Dragon docked to the International Space Station (ISS) after a 19-hour-long voyage through space. Astronauts Behnken and Hurley named the first SpaceX Crew Dragon to take humans to the station –Endeavour.

 

 

When they were selected as astronauts their first mission was aboard a Space Shuttle named Endeavour, so, the name has a special significance to them as they reignite a new era in American human spaceflight. “We chose Endeavour for a few reasons: one, because of this incredible endeavor NASA, SpaceX, and the United States has been on since the end of the Shuttle program back in 2011,” Hurley said during a live broadcast as he traveled aboard the craft. “The other reason we named it Endeavour is a little more personal to Bob and I. We both had our first flights on Shuttle Endeavour, and it just meant so much to us to carry on that name.”

Astronaut Hurley was aboard the last Space Shuttle launched from American soil in 2011, he left an American flag at the station that the agency planned to bring back when a new human space program started. Nearly ten years later, Hurley is set to make history when he brings back the flag he left on the last mission. "Brought home by same person who placed it there almost a decade ago," Musk noted via Twitter.

 

 

Dragon Endeavour can operate with full autonomy, during their voyage, the brave pair had the opportunity to test out the spacecraft’s manual features. For a moment, they tested the “far-field” maneuvering controls by piloting the spacecraft’s attitude. Flying the vehicle manually involves interfacing a trio of touchscreen displays. After the test, the crew returned Endeavour to autonomous mode, to have the opportunity to rest and sleep for 8-hours. “We had a good night’s sleep last night,” Behnken said before arriving at the ISS. “We were surprised, I think, in how well we actually slept aboard the vehicle, a little bit quieter than the Space Shuttle, a little bit more environmentally controlled.”

 

 

At around 8:57 a.m. EDT. the spacecraft approached about 400 meters below the space station. Then at 9:22 a.m. EDT. it autonomously got closer to 220 meters in front of the station, that’s when Behnken and Hurley switched on the manual feature to pilot the craft, for a second test. This time, the crew tested the controls for “near-field” maneuvering. At 10:10 a.m. EDT. they switched on the autonomous feature and allowed Dragon Endeavour to dock itself to the space stations module. It docked at 10:20 a.m. EDT. After docking completed, Astronaut Hurley stated:

“It’s been a real honor to be a small part of this nine-year endeavor since the last time a United States spaceship docked with the International Space Station. We have to congratulate the men and women of SpaceX, at Hawthorne McGregor and at Kennedy Space Center. Their incredible efforts over the last several years to make this possible cannot go overstated.”

 

 

 

After pressure leak checks, Behnken and Hurley removed their spacesuits and opened Dragon’s hatch to greet the astronauts in the orbiting laboratory at 1:02 EDT. They will join three crewmates: NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian Cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.

They will stay at the station somewhere between 6 and 16 weeks, to conduct science experiments as part of the NASA Expedition 63 crew. It is unclear how long they will stay at the station; When they return, the pair will ride aboard Dragon Endeavour to reenter Earth’s atmosphere to conduct a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

 




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