SpaceX has become the first certified commercial enterprise to launch astronauts to the International Space Station. This marks yet another milestone in what is already a historic year for the aerospace company.
Crew-1 is the first operational mission to the ISS under the umbrella of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
On Sunday November 15 at 7:27 p.m. EDT, the Falcon 9 B1061 successfully lifted off from launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The booster carried the Crew Dragon capsule C207 “Resilience” as a payload.
The booster’s first stage landed on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship nine and a half minutes after liftoff. The Crew Dragon itself separated from Falcon 9’s upper-stage twelve minutes after takeoff.
Crew-1, was initially scheduled to take place on Saturday November 14 at 7:49 p.m. EDT. However, due to weather concerns, the mission was postponed until yesterday. Rough currents on the Atlantic Ocean prompted NASA and SpaceX to delay the flight. The decision was taken to eliminate risks stemming from the recovery of the first-stage of B1061 by SpaceX’s drone ship.
Resilience is expected to dock on the International Space Station tonight at 11 pm Eastern. The capsule is carrying NASA astronauts: Mission specialist Shannon Walker, pilot Victor Glover Jr., and commander Michael Hopkins, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The crew is heading for a six-month-long expedition on the ISS, and will be conducting microgravity studies throughout that timeframe. Microgravity is the condition in which people, or objects, appear to be weightless. The effects of microgravity can be seen when astronauts and objects float in space.
The Crew-1 mission itself sets a number of landmarks as well. Pilot Victor Glover will be the first Black astronaut to perform a long-duration flight on the ISS. Soichi Noguchi is the first Japanese astronaut to fly to orbit on three different launch vehicles: The Space Shuttle, the Soyuz Spacecraft, and now, the Crew Dragon.
What is the Significance of Crew-1 for SpaceX?
Crew-1 serves as the official follow-up of SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 mission. The latter was intended to complete the validation of crewed spaceflight operations using SpaceX hardware and equipment. It successfully concluded on August 2.
NASA officials conducted a Flight Readiness Review (FRR) on November 10 to review the status of Crew-1’s launch preparations. The agency then certified SpaceX to begin regular crew rotation flights to and from the ISS. “With this milestone, NASA has concluded that the SpaceX system has successfully met our design, safety and performance requirements,” said Phil McAlister, director of commercial spaceflight development at NASA.
Crew-1 thus marks the culmination of years of work for SpaceX in partnership with NASA on developing human spaceflight capabilities.
When will the Next Crew Missions Take Place?
The mission will be the first of a series of what are formally known as post-certifications missions by NASA. Crew-2, which will fly astronauts from NASA, JAXA and the European Space Agency, has a launch-readiness date on March 30, 2021. Crew-3 is expected to take place in late summer or early fall next year.
All in all, SpaceX is now the first privately-held “space taxi” company from and to the ISS!