SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley aboard on Saturday, May 30. This historic mission comes nine years after NASA shut down its space shuttle program in 2011 and is the first time NASA astronauts have launched in a commercially built and operated aircraft, according to NASA.
This mission has been a long time in the making.
“It’s been 18 years working towards this goal, so it’s hard to believe that it’s happened,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk said in a post-launch conference. “I’m really quite overcome with emotion on this day, so it’s kind of hard to talk, frankly.”
The Crew Dragon traveled for 19 hours before docking on the International Space Station on early Sunday morning.
Upon reaching the International Space Station, Behnken said “we are looking forward to contributing in any way we can.”
Tradition and Innovation
The launch, originally scrubbed 17 minutes before liftoff on May 27 because of bad weather, took place in Florida, on the same launchpads which were used for NASA’s Apollo missions and space shuttles.
Prior to liftoff, Behnken announced “SpaceX, Dragon, we’re go for launch, let’s light this candle,” mirroring what astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space, said before launching in 1961.
Behnken and Hurley chose to name their ship Endeavor, a homage to their first space flights in the original NASA shuttle Endeavor.
While alluding to iconic moments in space exploration, SpaceX’s mission also set new precedents. On Saturday’s mission, SpaceX successfully relanded their Falcon 9 boosters on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You in Port Carnevale, Florida,” according to SpaceX’s launch live stream.
This landing was important for SpaceX, which has been focusing on creating reusable rockets to reduce the cost of space travel.
Pioneering Commercial Space Flight
In 2010, President Barack Obama started the Commercial Crew Development (CCD) program to contract private companies for space missions, according to The New York Times. Since then, NASA has partnered with more than a dozen companies on a range of different technological projects.
As part of this CCD program, in 2014, SpaceX received $2.6 billion to develop its rockets which would carry astronauts to and from a low-Earth orbit, according to Time.
“This is an opportunity for everybody to reflect on humanity and what we can do when we work together, when we strive and when we achieve,” reflecting on the importance of the NASA-SpaceX partnership Jim Bridenstine, Administrator of NASA, said.
This launch is the first of SpaceX’s many missions. They are contracted by NASA to launch Crew-1 in the next few months, which will carry four astronauts to space according to CNN.
This is just the beginning of SpaceX and the era of commercial spaceflight.
“Today’s launch makes clear the commercial space industry is the future,” President Donald Trump said.