On May 30, 2020, Elon Musk’s space company marked the beginning of the private astronautics era. Launching the Crew Dragon spacecraft using the Falcon 9 rocket has shown that private companies can send people into space, just as well as the government programs, and sometimes do it much better thanks to their innovative ideas.
The Demo-2 mission with a crew of two astronauts is the first successful manned space flight for SpaceX. It’s also the first time the US astronauts went to space since the Space Shuttle era, which ended in 2011.
NASA astronauts Bob Banken and Doug Hurley flew all the way to the International Space Station, where they docked on May 31. NASA TV has provided an online broadcast of this historic event.
After spending one-to-four months on the ISS, Behnken and Hurley will return to Earth on Crew Dragon. The Demo-2 mission will be considered successful only after the spacecraft has safely landed. This flight will prove the US private space program no longer needs to depend on the good old Russian “Soyuz” spacecraft to deliver astronauts to the ISS.
Would you like to learn some fascinating facts about the flight of Crew Dragon? I bet you would!
1) The Falcon 9 rocket used to launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit has successfully returned to Earth and had a smooth landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean. That’s a spectacular accomplishment!
2) After the launch, the Crew Dragon’s flight continued in a fully automatic mode. Moreover, the docking with the ISS will also be done on autopilot without astronauts’ participation.
3) The auto-docking procedure was a new experience for the classically trained veterans of spacefaring Hurley and Behnken. They used to do everything manually, which sounds like a lot of work. Of course, the crew will be able to take manual control if/when necessary, but the main stages of the procedure must be executed by the technical means of Crew Dragon.
4) If you look closer at the controls of Crew Dragon, you’ll see no knobs, levers, switches, buttons, and no steering wheel, of course. The new era requires new tech. That’s why all operations are done exclusively through large touch screens. If the mission becomes a success, these touch screens will become the norm for all future space travel.
5) Astronauts wear special spacesuits complete with gloves that will allow them to operate touch screens. The suits are a love child of SpaceX engineers and the famous designer Jose Fernandez. The suits have built-in cooling and communication systems, and the helmet was made on a 3D printer. Talk about breakthrough technology!
What other surprises are Elon and SpaceX keeping in store for us and the entire world? I guess we’ll find out soon enough!