If the weather or other incidents do not prevent it, an event will take place tonight that will go down in the history of space exploration, since for the first time a private commercial company will take astronauts into space.
Elon Musk will fulfill a dream after his aerospace company Space X has been working with NASA for more than ten years. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, after being in a typical quarantine for two weeks, will depart for the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon ship, powered by a Falcon 9 rocket from launch pad 39-A at the Center NASA Kennedy Space Station in Florida.
It is a historical platform, since it was used for send the Apollo 11 astronauts on its way to the Moon and it also hosted the last space shuttle flight in 2011. That was the last time American astronauts flew in from the United States. Since then, all American astronauts have flown on a Soyuz rocket from the Russian space agency.
Now another era is opening that we do not know if it will be better or worse, but it will be different. NASA, under the administration of new director Jim Bridenstine, considered a priority add initiative and private investment to space exploration after the ferry project was canceled and the agency’s overall budget was cut.
The Crew Dragon ship has gone through various tests until it can transport humans and today it will be the final step (Mission Demo-2) before the final certification. Space X already successfully docked the ship to the ISS last year, but on an unmanned mission. The test flight provided valuable data for NASA to certify SpaceX’s crew transport system for transporting astronauts to and from the space station.
It was the first time a private spacecraft of its kind had been docked at the station, one of two (alongside Boeing’s Starliner) that NASA has chosen to transport astronauts into space as part of its Commercial Crew program.
At the beginning of the year, SpaceX completed another crucial test of the ship’s security system, consisting of simulating a failure to launch the Falcon 9 booster and the launch of an emergency abort. As expected if that scenario ends up happening, the Crew Dragon will use its eight Super Draco engines to quickly get away from the rocket, which in a real mission would ensure the safety of astronauts on board in the face of an unexpected rocket failure.
The moment of truth for Space X
If everything works as planned in this animation, the two astronauts will arrive on the launch pad in a Tesla Model X car and dressed in the space suits also designed by Musk’s company. Once in space, the capsule will separate from the rest of the rocket in several phases and will dock 19 hours after launch on the International Space Station, where it will stay docked spinning around the planet until it is time to return to Earth.
Recall that bringing astronauts to the ISS is just a first step in Space X’s plans, because the great objective (after passing through the Moon) is Mars. Elon Musk not only wants to bring some fearless souls, but he wants to create a “nation” with a million humans on the red planet. According to the executive’s accounts, they would have to build 100 spacecraft per year to send about 100,000 people from Earth to Mars each time the planets’ orbits align favorably. And this in 2050 …
At the moment we will be satisfied that the first manned flight meets the objectives. It will be a huge success for a private company, but it will have barely reached Earth orbit and Mars is at a colossal distance in kilometers and in technology. In case you want to follow it, both NASA and Space X will broadcast the entire mission live from 18:15 in Spain (12:15 pm EST). The launch is scheduled for 22.33 in Spain.