NASA and SpaceX make History: Some Good News

NASA and SpaceX Make History: Some Good News For a Change

For those who may not have known or were unable to catch it on television, Sunday, November 15, 2020, NASA and SpaceX launched Dragon-2 space vehicle riding on the SpaceX rocket Falcon-9. Its mission; to ferry four astronauts, three from NASA and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, to the International Space Station.

What makes this so historic? For the first time, international astronauts will be given a ride to the ISS via a vehicle created by a private company. SpaceX provides the Falcon-9 reusable rocket and the Dragon-2 SpaceCraft, while NASA and JAXA provide the passengers.

In 2011, NASA ended the space launch program, and ever since, American Astronauts had to catch a ride with the Russians to the International Space Station. So with this launch, America is back in the space exploration business.

As mentioned above, the crew is composed of three NASA Astronauts and one JAXA astronaut. Commanding the flight is Michael S.Hopkins, a colonel in the newly created Space Force, prior to being selected by NASA to command the Dragon Crew, nicknamed “Resilience,” Mike had served 28 years in the Air Force and has 166 days in space. Piloting the first operational flight of the Dragon is a rookie astronaut Victor Jerome Glover. Though he is a rookie to NASA, he is no rookie to flight. He is a commander in the United States Navy, a pilot of the F/A-18, and a graduate of the Air Force Test Pilot School. Next up is Shannon Walker, an American physicist; her first trip to the ISS was in 2010 onboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-19; she has spent over 163 days in space. Lastly is Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese aeronautical engineer, and JAXA astronaut. His first mission to space was aboard the STS-114 in 2005. It was NASA’s first “return to flight” mission after the disaster of Columbia.

The new rocket and capsule design are truly amazing. It invigorates the imagination with futuristic style, and touch screen computers for interior controls give an impression of science fiction. With newly crafted space suits and a crew of flight preppers that look like space ninjas, it makes you realize this isn’t the space agency of the 1960s or even the early 2000s.

While watching the event on NASA live TV, the excitement truly began to build as the count grew nearer to those iconic last 10 seconds. I could imagine how Americans felt watching Apollo 11 getting ready to launch to the Moon. Lingering in my mind was the notion that this was the first step toward revisiting the Moon and then on to Mars and beyond.

The importance of the reusable Falcon-9 rocket is the significant reduction of cost in space flight. Consider the idea of burning your car every time you got to work, then carpooling home. That is essentially what NASA had been doing this whole time. Worst then that, Americans were footing the bill. Now with the Falcon-9, we can reduce the cost and turnaround time to the next launch. In the near future, SpaceX is hoping to have a turnaround time of just over 24 hours. The only cost will be required maintenance and fuel.

The Dragon-2 crew capsule is equally as impressive. The interior is sleek, an excellent combination of white, black, and grey. With touchscreen computers, it is entirely autonomous. In fact, after a few hours of post-launch checks, the passengers have an 8 hour sleeping period scheduled, while “Resilience” pilots itself toward the ISS. In addition to these features is a full array of safety systems to keep the astronauts from suffering a terminal fate. If a Critical System Code alerts, the Dragon-2 will jettison the crew capsule away from the engines, engage the maneuvering thrusters to orient itself, deploy parachutes at a specific altitude, and bring the crew safely back down to earth.

With the launch right on schedule, the crew departed pad 39A, the same launch pad used for the Apollo 11 launch, at 7:27 P.M. Eastern time. As the control room began counting down from ten, I found myself counting down with them. A real feeling of American pride filled my soul, and a sense of excitement for the future put a childlike smile on my face. About 7 minutes after launch, Dragon separated from Falcon-9, and at about 10 mins after launch, Falcon-9 touched back down at a landing pad aboard a SpaceX drone ship at sea, named, “Just Read the Instructions.” At the same time this was happening, the crew aboard the Dragon Spacecraft, “Resilience,” was settling into orbit around the earth, waiting to link up with the ISS in 27 hours.
Dragon capsule docking with ISS
At about 9:30 P. M.16 November 2020, “Resilience” will dock with the ISS delivering its cargo safely, bringing an end to this phase of the mission.

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