NASA and SpaceX have achieved a historic milestone in American spaceflight, successfully launching two astronauts on a journey to the International Space Station (ISS) in the first crewed test flight of the new Crew Dragon capsule.
This is the first time that American astronauts have launched from American soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011, as well as the first time astronauts have been ferried to space aboard a privately-owned rocket.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley launched from the famous Launch Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, at 12:22 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 30, with the Crew Dragon capsule set atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Once the rocket’s first stage was no longer required, it separated and fell to Earth where it was caught by SpaceX on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The astronauts have begun their 19-hour journey, scheduled to arrive at the ISS to begin docking at 7:27 a.m. PT on Sunday, May 31. The hatch between the capsule and the station is scheduled to open at 9:45 a.m. PT, at which time Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed by the current ISS crew — NASA astronaut and Commander Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos cosmonauts and Flight Engineers Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
This artist’s concept shows a SpaceX Crew Dragon docking with the International Space Station as it will during a mission for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceXBehnken and Hurley are expected to spend between one and three months aboard the ISS, performing further tests on the docked capsule as well as assisting the ISS crew with their maintenance tasks and scientific research. The exact length of their stay will depend upon when SpaceX and NASA are ready to perform their next launch, which will be decided once the astronauts arrive safely.
With the test flight completed successfully, SpaceX is expected to soon begin regularly ferrying NASA astronauts between Earth and the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Program. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has spoken about his desire for NASA to become a customer of private companies like SpaceX as part of a robust space-based market in low-Earth orbit, in order for the agency to save money by making use of private sector experience.
NASA had not launched humans into space in a new vehicle from the U.S. since 1981, in a mission called STS-1 which was the first orbital flight of the Columbia orbiter as part of the space shuttle program.