Finally offering a calm sky and a beautiful sea, SpaceX successfully launched four more astronauts for NASA on Wednesday evening with a Falcon 9 rocket.
On a once-used first stage of Falcon 9, the Crew Dragon spacecraft flew into thin clouds over the Kennedy Space Center and safely reached orbit. The first stage then returned to Earth and landed on a drone ship. The crew – NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron as well as the European astronaut Matthias Maurer – will dock at the International Space Station on Thursday evening.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Wednesday night launch is that it seemed that way almost Routine.
Less than 18 months have passed since SpaceX took the extraordinary step of becoming the first private company to put people into orbit national space agencies of Russia, the United States, and China.
Since then, Crew Dragon has launched three additional missions for NASA as well as the private Inspiration4 flight this fall. That’s a pretty quick cadence straight out of the gate. The space shuttle with its standing army of thousands and thousands of officials and contractors flew its fifth mission after 19 months.
Crew Dragon grew out of a partnership between NASA and SpaceX over the past decade. In anticipation of the shutdown of the space shuttle, NASA worked with SpaceX and Boeing to privately develop launch systems to put astronauts in low-earth orbit. When the final contracts were signed in 2014, it was expected that SpaceX and Boeing would each fly one mission per year. However, Boeing encountered technical challenges in the development of its Starliner spaceship, so Crew Dragon had to perform double tasks from the start.
“I think we’re incredibly grateful for the partnership we had,” said Kathy Lueders, director of manned spaceflight at NASA, during a post-launch press conference for the NASA SpaceX team. “You know, when I first started in the commercial crew six or seven years ago, it would have been a dream for me to have flown those four missions in a row. Because it’s a really difficult thing. I am incredibly proud of this joint team. “
The cadence is even more impressive when you consider that SpaceX also recently unveiled an updated version of its Cargo Dragon starship. Including crew and cargo missions, SpaceX either launched or landed a Dragon spaceship every month except February and March in 2021.
The launch on Wednesday evening was also less than 47 hours after another Crew Dragon spacecraft with four astronauts splashed off the coast of Florida. This set a record for the minimum time between a human landing and the subsequent take-off of an occupation vehicle.
Sarah Walker, SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management, quickly attributed the company’s success in entering the world of manned spaceflight to its partnership with NASA.
“Manned space travel was the reason we were founded,” said Walker. “That’s why it’s incredibly meaningful for the entire team. We couldn’t be more excited to finally be here and stand on the shoulders of the giants with this partnership with NASA.”
Offer picture by Trevor Mahlmann
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