On Saturday, May 30, at 3.22 P.M. Eastern Time, SpaceX pulled off a historical new beginning of human spaceflight from the US soil. It was a new dawn that started with a dream and gradually evolved into a thrilling reality.
In 2010, under president Obama, a program called the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) began to replace the existing space shuttle going on retirement. The aim was to replace the shuttle with a privately built spacecraft. Two US companies, SpaceX and Boeing were contracted with $2.6 billion and $4.2 billion funding respectively to build a new spaceflight for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
So the journey that brought Florida to a standstill on Saturday started, and now the rest is history.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft leaped on a Falcon 9 rocket from the Launch Complex 39-A at Cape Canaveral in Florida, marking a new era of commercial spaceflight.
The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was moved due to unfavorable weather. But it did not only fulfill a dream, it made history. The Crew Dragon was funded by NASA and has become the first private human vehicle to head for orbit.
The dream has come true, and the dreamer, Elon Musk, and the world fascinated by his prodigy have been thrilled beyond awe by the reality.
“This is everything America has to offer in its purest form. Times are tough right now. But I hope this moment in time is an opportunity everybody to reflect on humanity and what we can do when we work together,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine after the launch.
Aboard the spacecraft are two astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, making sure the history segmented into three important aspects, touches its final destination.
It is the first time that astronauts have been launched into space from the US soil since 2011.
SpaceX is recording its first-ever crewed mission.
This is also the first time ever that a privately developed spacecraft launched humans into orbit.
The destination is the International Space Station (ISS), 400 kilometers above the earth. It will take Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley 19 hours to reach their destination.
The spaceflight is expected to reach the ISS Sunday afternoon if all go well, where the astronauts will meet with three other people, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
The United States government has been working since 2004 to find an alternative to the space shuttle retired by President Bush. The space shuttle flew for the last time in 2011, ever since then, no human has ever launched to orbit from the US soil. The quest to fill the vacuum created by the retired spacecraft continued with subsequent US presidents. With the CCDev program, the scientific adventure to usher in a new era was born.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX was thrilled at the prospect of commercial spaceflight, and went to work with all eagerness. SpaceX has enormous experience in spacecraft because it has been flying missions to the ISS for NASA, including the cargo version it flew in 2010.
The Crew Dragon was first tested in March 2019, when SpaceX performed an uncrewed test flight to the ISS. But the progress suffered setbacks in April, when the spacecraft disappointedly exploded following a valve malfunction while in a routine test back on earth.
Musk whose goal is to launch humans to Mars, got back to work. Just about a year after the disappointment from the explosion, history became kind to him.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 with a big dream of operating commercial services, putting people on the moon and launching others to Mars. Musk is working on a bigger space vehicle, the Starship, to accommodate more people in years to come. Part of the plan is to start commercial services with the Crew Dragon so that paying customers can be launched into space.
The Starship vehicle is expected to accommodate up to 100 passengers. SpaceX is planning to include it with two other vehicles in its Artemis program billed to commence Moon trips in 2024. As part of its contract with NASA, SpaceX will continue to deliver astronauts to the ISS increasing the number of passengers up to four in coming months.
Elon Musk has not only made history by making the spaceflight possible with a 18 years old company, he has also made the US government proud. Prior to this day, the only way to reach the ISS was through Russian Soyuz, and NASA has been paying Russia $90 million per seat over the past nine years.
Today, the launch of the Crew Dragon spaceflight has saved NASA the embarrassment, it has fulfilled a dream and Elon Musk is to be thanked for that. He said: “This is a dream come true. It is not something I thought would actually happen.”