SpaceX launches two astronauts into orbit, triggering a new spaceflight era.
The United States opened a new era of human space travel on Saturday when a private company launched astronauts for the first time, almost a decade after the government stopped the multi-storey space shuttle program after a national tragedy.
Two American astronauts took off at 3:22 a.m. from a familiar setting, the same Florida launch pad that once served the Apollo mission and the shuttle. But rockets and capsules that take them out of the atmosphere are a new sight for many people – built and operated not by NASA but SpaceX, a company founded by billionaire Elon Musk to pursue his dream of sending colonists to Mars.
The crowd of spectators including President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence watched and cheered as the countdown approached zero, and the Falcon 9 rocket engine roared alive.
Initially rising slowly, the rocket shot like a silvery and soft javelin into a cloudy and humid sky, three days after the Florida weather blocked an earlier launch attempt.
It was a moment of victory and perhaps nostalgia for this country, a welcome reminder of America’s global superiority in science, technological innovation and private companies at a time when its prospects and ambitions have been enveloped by a coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and political strife. . Millions of people around the world watch online launches and on television, many of which are quarantined in their own homes.
Trump, who watched from the roof in the center of space along with Mr. Mike Pence and a group of Republican administration officials and politicians, called it “inspiration for our country” and “beautiful scenery” after the ship took off. “I am very proud of the people at NASA, everyone who works together, publicly and privately,” he told reporters.
Falcon 9 carries a Crew Dragon capsule, which is scheduled to meet with the International Space Station on Sunday morning.
On board were two veterans from the astronaut corps, Robert L. Behnken and Douglas O. Hurley. Each is married to another astronaut – Mr. Behnken from Megan McArthur and Mr. Hurley from Karen Nyberg. NASA chose the two men along with a group of their colleagues to become the first customers of space capsules built by private companies.
It was NASA’s first astronaut launch from the United States since the shuttle’s retirement in 2011. In the years since then, NASA has paid for Russia’s space program to transport its astronauts to the space station. And with this success, NASA, with its own excitement, has begun to submit this task to SpaceX and other companies, and it opens new possibilities for entrepreneurs who want to make money from the planet.
As a bonus for a good start to the mission, the booster stage successfully landed on a floating platform in the Atlantic, now a routine achievement for SpaceX.
They both have backgrounds as military test pilots and each has had two previous flights on the space shuttle mission, even though this is their first time working together on a mission. Mr. Hurley flew on the last shuttle mission in 2011.
In 2015, they were among the astronauts chosen to work with Boeing and SpaceX on commercial space vehicles developed by the company. In 2018, they will be assigned to the first SpaceX flight.
The preparations for Saturday’s launch began with the astronauts wearing their space suits with the help of a SpaceX technician. Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, and Jim Morhard, deputy administrator, visited them in the meeting room. Each of them keeps a social distance and wears a surgical mask, and Mr. Bridenstine poses with the astronauts for a selfie.
Right after noon, the astronauts were seen leaving by their family before their trip to the launchpad. Behnken asked his son, Theodore, “Will you listen to mother and make her life easy,” referring to his wife, Megan McArthur, a fellow astronaut. The six-year-old man replied, “Let’s light this candle!”
Within an hour, they had boarded the Crew Dragon capsule and started the hour of procedure that they had to complete before the launch attempt.
Trump compared the launch with national protests in the speech.
Trump and Mr. Pence spoke at the Kennedy Space Center to congratulate NASA and SpaceX after launch.
The president began his speech by discussing the death of George Floyd in Minnesota earlier this week and the national protests that had taken place. He called for “creation, not destruction,” supporting the rights of peaceful demonstrators, but strongly opposed rioters and looters.
The president said the launch provides a sense of pride that unites Americans.
“The same passion that drives our astronauts to the moon has also helped lift our country to greater levels of justice and opportunities throughout our history,” Trump said.
Trump also discussed the formation of the Space Forces, a new branch of the military, and said this and the policies of his administration aimed at helping the United States regain prestige as a global leader in space.
“With this launch, decades of missing years and little action are officially over,” Trump said. “A new era of American ambition has begun.”
The president briefly discussed the coronavirus pandemic, saying the same determination and determination that sent us into space would also conquer diseases on Earth.
Fact-checking: Trump’s speech minimizes the role of other administrations.
President Trump gave a celebratory speech on Saturday after astronauts were launched into orbit praising his administration’s contribution to the mission while ignoring the key role played by the previous president.
The Trump administration has improved aspects of space policy at its White House, rebuilt the National Space Council led by Vice President Pence, and added the Space Force to the Department of Defense. He has also set his top priorities for NASA – a trip to the moon in late 2024 as the beginning of a trip to Mars – unlike the previous president.
But the president also criticized the state of NASA under the previous administration.
“When I first came to the office three and a half years ago, NASA had lost its direction and excitement, energy and ambition because almost everyone in this room knew it had been done,” he said, referring also to cracks growing on the runway at Kennedy. The Space Center, and chose the Obama administration because it “led the closure of the shuttle.”
NASA did retire the nation’s shuttle fleet while President Obama was in office, but this was a decision initiated during the administration of his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Trump also said that “past leaders put astronauts at the mercy of foreign countries to send them into orbit,” referring to the use of Russian Soyuz space capsules. But while the previous administration made a decision that led to that fact, they also initiated a policy that led to the launch on Saturday.
The commercial crew program launched by SpaceX is part of a program that began under President Barack Obama in 2011. The program was strongly opposed by members of Congress, who initially did not provide as much money as NASA requested. While this development is slowing down, NASA administrator Bpk. Obama, Charles F. Bolden Jr., is stuck with the program, continuing to advance it.
Mr. Bolden “has just done a woman’s job to get this program from the start to run it. And this is where we, many years later, get this success, “Bridenstine said earlier this week.
And the crew program itself is modeled after NASA’s commercial cargo program, which pays SpaceX and other companies during George W. Bush’s presidency to develop cheaper capsules to send material to the International Space Station.
So the policy that led to the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was the result of continuity in three administrations, with NASA administrator Trump carrying a stick at the finish line after he was confirmed by the Senate about 15 months as president of Mr. Trump.
What did they fly?
SpaceX has never brought people into space before. The Crew Dragon is a gum-shaped capsule – an upgraded version of the original Dragon SpaceX capsule, which has been used many times to carry cargo, but not people, to the space station.
Crew Dragon has room for up to seven people, but will only have four seats for NASA missions. If this launch is successful, it will take four astronauts to the space station later this year.
The capsule that brings Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley is not named until it finally orbits. Saturday night, the astronauts announced the name they gave: Endeavor, the moniker he shared with the space shuttle and the British navy research ship commanded by James Cook.
What about the space clothes they wear?
Michael Bay, director of the 1998 cosmic disaster film “Armageddon,” once give an interview discuss the worst crisis in film making.
“Three weeks before the first day of our main photography, I went to see outer space clothing,” he said. “They look like Adidas jogging clothes on a shelf. That’s where I almost killed myself.” Because, he said, if you don’t have “cool” space clothes, the whole film will sink.
Apparently Elon Musk came from the same school of thought.
Or it looks like it was seen from the launch and re-entry of white and black suit the astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will be charged when they board the white and black Tesla and board the Cape Canaveral launchpad to board the white and black SpaceX Crew Dragon capsules for first voyage from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.
After all, when it comes to capturing the public’s imagination around space travel, style is important.
“The suit is a charismatic mammal of space hardware,” said Cathleen Lewis, curator of the international space and clothing program at the Smithsonian Institution’s Aerospace and Space Museum. “They arouse human experience.”
In fact, what matches SpaceX most awakening is the James Bond tuxedo if redesigned by Tony Stark as an enhancement to James T. Kirk’s next big adventure. Streamline, graphic and articulated, clothing is more a part of the space-style pop-comic culture continuum than NASA’s continuum.
Why does NASA work with SpaceX in this matter?
To replace the shuttle, NASA decided to switch to two private companies – SpaceX and Boeing – in essence to produce rental cars equivalent to the spacecraft. NASA will then buy tickets on its capsules for space travel.
This program turned out to be far cheaper than if NASA had developed its own replacement spacecraft, even though the capsule had faced many delays on its way to being ready to launch.
NASA under the Trump administration also hopes to spur more commercial use of space stations, for destinations including tourism. Although the tickets will be expensive, passengers can buy a vehicle to orbit above the SpaceX capsule and can buy a seat in the Boeing capsule once it is ready to fly.
Lifting up the coronavirus, crowds gathered in Florida for launch.
Despite warnings from NASA to stay home to limit the spread of the corona virus, around 150,000 people came out to see the launch on Wednesday in this part of Florida around the Kennedy Space Center. Peter Cranis, executive director of the Space Coast of Tourism Office, who made the estimate, said he expected several hundred thousand viewers this weekend.
All parking spaces on the beach access road in Cape Canaveral are full at 9am Saturday, and there are not many spectators in Space View Park – a popular viewing area – away from social or wearing masks, Florida Today reports. And less than half an hour before takeoff, the crowd had grown nearly double the size of Wednesday’s launch, according to the newspaper.
The Kennedy Space Center was not open to the public on Wednesday, but the visitor center was partially opened on Saturday.
Bridenstine, NASA administrator, said that guests must adhere to social distance guidelines on agency grounds.
“What we hope is when people come here, they follow the governor’s guidance.”
When will the astronauts arrive at the space station?
The Dragon Crew is scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station 19 hours after launch on Sunday, around 10:30 am Eastern time. During their trip, astronauts will test to test how airplanes fly and verify that the system performs as designed. Unless something goes wrong, the Crew Dragon computer usually handles all maneuvering and docking procedures.
The astronauts also said they planned toilet capsule test.
How long will they stay and what will they do?
Initially, Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley is scheduled to stay at the space station for only two weeks. But the plan was made when NASA thought the mission would fly in 2019. With the late development of Dragon Crew and other capsules, the Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft, NASA ran out of available seats on top of the Russian Soyuz capsule to the space station. Now finding himself short-handed there, with only one NASA astronaut, Christopher J. Cassidy, currently at the station with two Russian colleagues.
So, Mr. Behnken and Mr. Hurley are now expected to stay at the station for at least a month to help Mr. Cassidy. Mr. Behnken has been trained to do spacewalks, and Mr. Hurley took a refresher class on how to operate a Canadian station’s robot arm.
Why did NASA retire from the shuttle?
The decision to retire from the space shuttle was made in 2004 during the administration of President George W. Bush after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia the previous year. Shuttle service is required to complete the construction of the space station. But engines, heat tiles, and aerodynamics make them complicated to fly and maintain. These factors, and the costs of continuing to operate, led the Bush administration to decide that the money should be directed to send astronauts back to the moon in a program called Constellation.
The space station was completed in 2011, and the shuttle service has retired. The Obama administration, however, decided that the Constellation was too expensive and canceled it. Then start a commercial crew program that leads to Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Starliner.
How did NASA astronauts get to the space station?
Astronauts have been living on the International Space Station continuously for almost 20 years. After retiring from transportation, NASA had to rely on Russia for astronaut transportation, paying tens of millions of dollars for each seat on the Soyuz spacecraft.
Soyuz is based on a model that was first built by the Soviet space program in the 1960s, and capsules usually fly to and from the space station several times each year. With the commencement of the commercial crew mission, the number of Soyuz flights is likely to drop.
NASA astronauts will likely continue to fly with the launch of Soyuz – and Russian astronauts on the SpaceX and Boeing missions – so that the crew members are familiar with all the different systems. However, NASA will then not pay for Soyuz trips, but instead trade seats in Boeing or SpaceX aircraft with seats in Soyuz.
With SpaceX, Elon Musk largely avoids dramas like Tesla.
President Trump congratulates Mr. Musk in his speech after launch, and detailed Mr Musk’s path from internet entrepreneurs to space investors.
“Some time ago SpaceX became the first private company to put humans into orbit,” Trump said. “Elon Musk, congratulations. For him and 8,000 SpaceX employees, today is fulfilling the dream of almost two decades in the making. “
Mr. Musk, unlike the president, is not the person who holds his tongue, or his Twitter cursor. But in his role at SpaceX, he has maintained a lower profile than at Tesla, the electric car company he created.
With Tesla, Mr Musk has opposed what he sees as obstacles to doing business, including a policy of residence at home aimed at preventing the spread of the corona virus, short sellers of shares and the Securities and Exchange Commission. But SpaceX, which as a private company has received little attention from the federal government – and which has been permitted to operate through a pandemic – has avoided many things that upset him at Tesla.
That may be partly because the company responded to a much smaller group of investors, including Mr. Musk himself, a venture capital company, Founders Fund and DFJ, Google and Fidelity. And SpaceX is guided by Gwynne Shotwell, an aerospace veteran who joined the company as its 11th employee in 2002 and has been its president for more than a decade – an authority delegation that has not been put into practice by Mr. Musk at Tesla.
SpaceX is based in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles International Airport, in an area that for decades has been the center of government contractors serving military and space missions. SpaceX also operates a test site in Texas.
How was the Dragon Crew different from the 1960s capsules?
The Dragon Crew is roughly the same size as the Apollo capsules that carried NASA astronauts to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Previous NASA capsules – Mercury and Gemini – were smaller.
The inside is much slimmer than the one occupied by NASA astronauts 50 years ago and even the shuttle left. The computational power available is far greater now, allowing the touch screen to replace buttons and joy sticks used in previous spacecraft.
“Growing up as a pilot, my whole career had a certain way of controlling a vehicle, this was certainly different,” said Mr Hurley. “So the way to do it is a little different. But the design in general has worked very well. “
Which other companies are building spacecraft?
SpaceX’s partner in the commercial crew program, Boeing, may not be able to launch astronauts until next year. An unmanned flight last year experienced a significant software error, which prevented the spacecraft from reaching its main destination to dock at the space station, and could cause the spacecraft to disappear during its orbit test. Boeing will now repeat inappropriate tests later this year before including astronauts.
Closer to Earth, several companies – Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic – are developing spacecraft that provide short ride tours and rides to the edge of space, although no one is able to travel to the space station, or even into orbit.
Reporting was contributed by Kenneth Chang, Mariel Padilla, Vanessa Friedman, Niraj Chokshi, Peter Baker and Michael Roston.
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