Just as expected, SpaceX moved forward with a momentous end-to-end demonstration launch for NASA on Saturday, verifying once and for all that the Falcon 9 booster rocket and Crew Dragon space capsule would be viable tools for upcoming missions that will loft American astronauts from American soil to the International Space Station.
Image Credit: NASA
Without any unexpected deviations from the original plan, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket ignited each of its nine Merlin engines at 2:49 A.M. Eastern time and took off from the launchpad at NASA’s historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It wasn’t long after the launch that SpaceX’s un-crewed Crew Dragon capsule made it to outer space. Once there, it entered orbit around the Earth and waited for the opportune time to rendezvous with the International Space Station and initiate its fully-autonomous docking sequence.
“Today’s successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” NASA’s Jim Bridenstine explained in a statement to the public.
“I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s space history. This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”
Even SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had something to say in response to the commercial space company’s successful launch demonstration:
“First a note of appreciation to the SpaceX team. It has been 17 years to get to this point, 2002 to now, and an incredible amount of hard work and sacrifice from a lot of people that got us to this point...I’d also like to express great appreciation for NASA,” Musk said.
“SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started and without the support after SpaceX did start.”
As you might come to expect, SpaceX live-streamed the launch for the world to see. Here's the footage:
The Crew Dragon capsule has since docked with the International Space Station, but unlike most capsules that dock with the Earth-orbiting space lab, this one wasn’t carrying any people or vital supplies. Rather, it was carrying around 400 pounds’ worth of dummy weight and supplies to simulate that of two adult humans.
The supplies will soon be offloaded from the Crew Dragon capsule, and International Space Station crew members will then fill it up with spent supplies and science experiments to return them to Earth. The re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere and the spacecraft’s safe descent are additional objectives of the Demo-1 mission that still need to be completed.
Given the circumstances surrounding the first successful demonstration launch, SpaceX is well on its way to conducting its second demonstration launch by July. The only difference between the two is that the latter will ferry live inhabitants to the International Space Station.
Humans haven’t launched from American soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011, so this is a significant milestone for all involved. More importantly, it will reduce the United States’ dependency on foreign nations for conducting space-related research, which should benefit the country’s scientific endeavors.
It should be interesting to see how the rest of the demonstration mission goes. We’re particularly excited about the upcoming launch in July.