SpaceX finally accomplished its goal of launching humans to space! The aerospace company performed two crewed flights to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2020. SpaceX returned human spaceflight capabilities to the United States under the NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which aims to perform frequent crewed flights to space from American soil. The agency had not launched astronauts to space from the U.S. ever since the Space Shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011. For around nine years NASA relied on Russia to launch astronauts to ISS.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket ignited a new era in American spaceflight as it lifted off on May 30th from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying NASA Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft to the Space Station. The mission, known as Demo-2, was SpaceX’s first crewed flight in which the astronauts were tasked to test out the spacecraft’s capabilities during their 27-hour-long voyage to the orbiting laboratory. “…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 founder of SpaceX Elon Musk said after the successful mission, “I am really quite overcome with emotion on this day, its kind of hard to talk frankly. Its been 18 years working towards this goal," he said (video below).
18 years working towards this goal - Elon. pic.twitter.com/mlZ4P5x5U8— Chris B - NSF (@NASASpaceflight) May 30, 2020
The brave astronauts successfully docked to the station where they worked for 63 days. The Demo-2 mission ended with a successful Crew Dragon splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean that demonstrated SpaceX’s spacecraft is reliable to transport humans safely to and from the Space Station. NASA certified Crew Dragon for routine operational missions.
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 made history when he brought back the flag he left. “Brought home by same person who placed it there almost a decade ago,” Musk said.
“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,” Hurley said in May, “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.” You can watch Demo-2 Mission highlights in the video below.
On November 15 this year, SpaceX launched its second crewed mission to the orbiting laboratory. The mission, known as Crew-1, is the first operational mission under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that launched an international crew of four astronauts. Crew-1 lifted off atop a Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. After a 27-hour-long voyage, Crew Dragon Resilience successfully docked autonomously to the Space Station's Harmony module on November 16, carrying NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soichi Noguchi. A plush toy of the beloved 'baby Yoda' character [formally named 'Grogu'] from Disney's Star Wars 'The Mandalorian' series, traveled alongside the astronauts as a zero gravity indicator.
The Crew-1 mission is still ongoing, the astronauts are expected to work at the station for six-months before returning aboard the spacecraft in 2021. “Huge shout outs to the NASA and SpaceX teams — excellent job; many hard years of work,” Ven Feng, Deputy Manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, said in November, “...We are looking forward to making this a very successful first operational mission, and many more to follow.”
SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell shared the company will be launching roughly seven cargo and crew missions aboard Crew Dragon over the next 18 months. --"This mission represents the initiation of a Dragon in orbit continuously, knocking on wood and certainly is really the beginning of a new era in human spaceflight," Shotwell said. You can watch the Crew-1 Mission highlights in the video below.
Image Sources: SpaceX and NASA
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.