Sunday, May 31, 2020

Elon Musk's SpaceX Rocket Sent Astronauts To ISS

Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launches rocket carrying astronauts bound for the ISS: NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken lifted off at 3:22pm local time from the same launch pad used to send the Apollo astronauts to the Moon a half-century ago.

"Let's light this candle," Commander Doug Hurley said just before lift-off. Minutes later, they safely entered orbit. Despite more storms in the forecast, the company pressed ahead in its historic attempt to launch astronauts for NASA, a first by a private company.

It's NASA's second go at the launch. The first attempt three days ago was halted due to bad weather. Leading up to the successful launch, forecasters put the odds of success at just 50:50. The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA, the longest such hiatus in its history.

Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station. The two men are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Sunday for a stay of up to four months, after which they will return to Earth with a splashdown at sea.

SpaceX and NASA managers monitored the weather not just at Kennedy Space Center, but all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland. Waves and wind needed to be within limits in case the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule had to make an emergency splashdown on the way to orbit.

Ultimately, NASA hopes to rely in part on its commercial partners as it works to send astronauts back to the moon in the next few years, and on to Mars in the 2030s. NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them $7 billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation. Boeing's spaceship, the Starliner capsule, is not expected to fly astronauts until early 2021.

The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the US over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Mr Musk said earlier in the week that the project was aimed at "reigniting the dream of space and getting people fired up about the future". NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would be a morale-booster.

"Maybe there's an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before the launch.

US President Donald Trump marvelled at the power of the rocket ship and the danger faced by its passengers as they soared into the stratosphere." That was a beautiful sight to see and I hope you all enjoyed it," Mr Trump said after the launch. US President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence were present for the launch at the Kennedy Space Center.

For Mr Trump, the second time was the charm. He also flew to the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday before the launch was postponed at the last minute because of bad weather. "When you hear that sound and you hear all of that roar, you can imagine how dangerous it is," Mr Trump said."When you feel the shake — and we're very far away — but when you feel the shake over here, it's pretty amazing. Beautiful site. A beautiful ship, too."

Asked why he felt it was important to be in Florida for the launch, given all that is going on in the country, Mr Trump said it was a "great inspiration" for the country. "We suffered something that was terrible, it should have never happened. And that's one of the reasons I wanted to be here today. I thought it was so important to be here today," Mr Trump said. "And I think any one of you would say, that was an inspiration to see what we just saw."

SpaceX's Dragon capsule delivers astronauts to the ISS 

SpaceX has delivered two astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, following an historic launch with an equally smooth docking in yet another first for Elon Musk's company. With test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken poised to take over manual control if necessary, the SpaceX Dragon capsule pulled up to the station and docked automatically, with no assistance needed.

It was the first time a privately built and owned spacecraft carried astronauts to the orbiting lab in its nearly 20 years. NASA considers this the opening volley in a business revolution encircling Earth and eventually stretching to the moon and Mars.

The docking occurred just 19 hours after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on Saturday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, in the first US astronaut launch to orbit from home soil in nearly a decade. Thousands jammed surrounding beaches, bridges and towns to watch as SpaceX became the world's first private company to send astronauts into orbit and ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA.

SpaceX Falcon 9 launches into the sky leaving a trail of white smoke across the ground. The astronauts said the launch was bumpy and dynamic.  A few hours before docking, the Dragon riders reported that the capsule was performing beautifully. Just in case, they slipped back into their pressurized launch suits and helmets for the rendezvous.

The three space station residents kept cameras trained on the incoming capsule for the benefit of flight controllers at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Gleaming white in the sunlight, the Dragon was easily visible from a few miles out, its nose cone open and exposing its docking hook as well as a blinking light. The capsule loomed ever larger on live NASA TV as it closed the gap.

Colonel Hurley and Colonel Behnken took over the controls less than a couple of hundred metres out as part of the test flight, before putting it back into automatic for the final approach. Colonel Hurley said the capsule handled "really well, very crisp."

SpaceX and NASA officials had held off on any celebrations until after Sunday morning's docking — and possibly not until the two astronauts are back on Earth sometime this summer. NASA has yet to decide how long the two astronauts will spend at the space station, somewhere between one and four months.

While they're there, the Dragon test pilots will join the one US and two Russian station residents in performing experiments and possibly spacewalks to install fresh station batteries. In a show-and-tell earlier on Sunday, the astronauts gave a quick tour of the Dragon's sparkling clean insides, quite spacious for a capsule.

They said the launch was pretty bumpy and dynamic, nothing the simulators could have mimicked. The blue sequined dinosaur accompanying them — their young sons' toy, named Tremor — was also in good shape, Colonel Behnken assured viewers.

Tremor was going to join Earthy, a plush globe delivered to the space station on last year's test flight of a crew-less crew Dragon. Behnken said both toys would return to Earth with them at mission's end. An old-style capsule splashdown is planned.

After launch, Mr Musk told reporters that the capsule's return will be more dangerous in some ways than its departure. Even so, getting the two astronauts safely into orbit and then to the space station had everyone breathing huge sighs of relief. As always, Mr Musk was looking ahead. "This is hopefully the first step on a journey toward a civilization on Mars," he said.

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