Four astronauts have successfully launched on the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” to the ISS (International Space Station) on Sunday, the 1st of what the US hopes will be many routine missions following a successful test flight in late spring.
Three American astronauts — Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Michael Hopkins and one Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi take off at 7:27 pm (0027 GMT Monday) from — the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Thereby ending almost a decade of international reliance on Russia for rides on its Soyuz rockets.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine during a post-launch press conference said, “This is a great day for the US, and a great day for Japan.”
12 minutes after liftoff, at an altitude of 124 miles (200 km) & a speed of 16,800 miles (27,000 km) per hour, the capsule successfully separated from the 2nd stage of the rocket.
SpaceX confirmed that it was on the right orbit to reach the International Space Station a little more than 27 hours later, at around 11:00 pm Monday night (0400 GMT Tuesday), joining one American and two Russians aboard the station, and stay for 6 months.
There was a problem with the cabin temperature control system, but it was soon solved.
Mission commander Hopkins from orbit said, “That was one heck of a ride.”
SpaceX briefly transmitted live images from inside the capsule showing the astronauts in their seats, something neither the Russians nor the Americans had done before.
Vice President of US Mike Pence, who attended the launch with his wife Karen, called it a “new era in human space exploration in America.”
The Crew Dragon capsule earlier this week became the first spacecraft to be certified by — NASA since the Space Shuttle nearly Forty years ago. It is launch vehicle is a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
At the end of its missions, the Crew Dragon deploys parachutes and then splashes down in the water, just as in the Apollo era.
The agency will have spent more than $8 billion on the Commercial Crew program by 2024, with the hope that the private sector can take care of NASA’s needs in “low Earth orbit” so it is freed up to focus on return missions to the Moon and then on to Mars.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, has leapfrogged its much older rival Boeing, whose program has floundered after a failed test of its uncrewed Starliner last year.
But SpaceX’s success won’t mean the US will stop hitching rides with Russia altogether, said Bridenstine.
“We want to have an exchange of seats where American astronauts can fly on Russian Soyuz rockets and Russian cosmonauts can fly on commercial crew vehicles,” he said, explaining it was necessary in case either program was down for a period of time.
The reality, however, is that space ties between the US and Russia, one of the few bright spots in their bilateral relations, have frayed in recent years, and much remains uncertain.