Image via NASA
Today, at twenty-seven minutes past midnight GMT, a white Falcon-9 rocket soared into space. It left from Pad 39 at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the same launch pad used by Apollo 11, which took the first men to the moon.
The rocket carried four astronauts in a Dragon crew capsule named Resilience, bound for the International Space station (ISS), marking the first-ever commercial manned space flight. Just nine minutes after launch the Falcon rocket released the Dragon crew capsule into orbit and splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean for retrieval by a specially-designed ship.
For Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, the company behind the mission, it was a total success.
It marked the first manned American space flight since the demise of the space shuttle in 2011. Since then, all flights to the ISS have been aboard Soviet Soyuz spacecraft.
In charge of the four astronauts is Flight Commander Michael Hopkins, a colonel in the US Space Force. He has made one previous visit to the ISS – in 2013. His crew comprises Dr Shannon Walker who has a doctorate in space physics and has made one previous trip to the ISS in 2010; Soichi Noguchi of JAXA the Japanese space agency, a veteran of two previous missions including three spacewalks; and Victor Glover who makes history by being NASA’s first black visitor to the space station.
Resilience is scheduled to dock with the ISS today, 16 Nov at 11 PM EST. One minor problem is that this will bring the complement on the space station to seven, and they only have sleeping accommodation for six – that means Hopkins will be sleeping in the crew capsule.
After the launch, Hopkins radioed back to SpaceX flight controllers: “Well done! That was one heck of a ride. Making history is definitely hard and you guys all made it look easy. Congratulations to everyone. Resilience is in orbit.”
The crew will spend six months at the space station carrying out various scientific experiments including whether radishes can be grown in space and whether fungi can be used to breakdown asteroids, allowing the mining of precious metals.
Elon Musk has just been diagnosed positive for COVID-19. We trust it will not detract too badly from a day of which he must surely be extremely proud.