This marks the first human launch from U.S. soil nearly a decade since retirement of space shuttle program and a new partnership between National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and SpaceX owned by Elon Musk, through an historic first private crewed flight into space.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., better known as SpaceX, is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California.
It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.
SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles but SpaceX’s Dragon capsule was launched into orbit on Saturday by the company’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
The destination of the spaceship is the International Space Station (ISS).
Since 2011, Americans had been hitching rides to space using Russian capsules launched from Kazakhstan, but that has changed as at May 30th, 2020.
The two veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley took off from Launch Complex 39A at 3:22pm (Eastern Time) on Saturday. That was exactly 8:22p.m Nigerian time on Saturday.
The successful blastoff—from the same launchpad at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center that sent Apollo crews to the moon during the height of the Cold War—seeks to highlight American’s persistence and scientific know-how even as the country continues to battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
It is also another path to further solidify the possibility for space tourism and provide momentum for proposed public-private aerospace partnerships to explore the moon and eventually set the stage for longer ventures deeper into space.
The astronauts are not only trialling a new capsule system, they are also initiating a new business model for NASA, as henceforth agency will no longer hitch rides from Russian but merely purchase the ‘taxi’ service offered by SpaceX.
It is hoped that companies other than the tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX outfit will come in to expand the private aerospace market.
The successful launch of the ship is the second attempt after bad weather foiled the mission initially scheduled Wednesday barely 17 minutes before takeoff.
Strapped into a reusable, gumdrop-shaped capsule called Crew Dragon, veteran astronauts Behnken and Hurley embarked on a scheduled 19-hour voyage to the ISS circling the globe 250 miles up, with US President Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence in Florida to observed the fiery scene of the launch.
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:22 p.m. local time, successfully reaching initial orbit 12 minutes later.
The crew is slated to remain at the International Space Station for at least two months, before returning with the capsule’s parachute landing in the Atlantic.
The SpaceX Crew Dragon has been well-equipped to stay in the Earth’s orbit for about 110 days; however, there are no confirmed details on when the astronauts will exactly return to Earth.
Engineer Musk himself said he was overcome with emotion watching his hardware take the astronauts to orbit.
He told US reporters;
I think this is something that should get people right in the heart, of anyone that has the spirit of exploration. And the US is the distillation of the spirit of exploration.
Trump, who came to Florida to watch the launch also said;
Past leaders put the US at the mercy of foreign nations to send our astronauts into orbit. Not anymore. Today we once again proudly launched American astronauts on American rockets – the best in the world – from right here on American soil.
The Dragon capsule owned by SpaceX is a fully automated vehicle capable of finding its own way to the ISS.
Assuming the return of the astronauts is as smooth as the launch, NASA and SpaceX will move directly into the full terms of their new relationship.
The company has a $2.6bn (£2.1bn) contract with the agency to fly six operational crew missions to the ISS.
For SpaceX, Saturday marked another significant milestone for the company which was founded just 18 years ago.