PHOTO CREDITS: NASA
According to the Associated Press, SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on November fifteenth, marking the beginning of an era of regular crew missions launching from the United States.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center with three American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut, the second crew to be sent into orbit by SpaceX, following the Demo-2 mission earlier this year.
The Crew-1 mission led by Commander Mike Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, named their capsule Resilience in a nod not only to the pandemic but to racial injustice and contentious politics as well. The crew is diverse, including physicist Shannon Walker, Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, the first Black astronaut on a long-term space station mission, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, who became the first person in almost 40 years to launch on three types of spacecraft.
The astronauts rode out to the launch pad in Teslas, another company owned by Elon Musk, after exchanging high-fives and hand embraces with their children and spouses, who huddled at the open car windows. Musk was forced to monitor the action from afar and was replaced by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell in bidding the astronauts farewell. Musk tweeted that he “most likely” had a moderate case of COVID-19. NASA policy at Kennedy Space Center requires anyone testing positive for coronavirus to quarantine and remain isolated.
The first-stage booster, aiming for an ocean platform several minutes after liftoff, is expected to be recycled by SpaceX for the next crew launch at the end of March, which would set up the newly launched astronauts for a return to Earth in April. SpaceX would launch yet another crew in late summer or early fall of 2021.
After almost a decade without launching astronauts from American soil, NASA has finally turned to private companies to haul cargo and crew to the ISS. After the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011, SpaceX qualified to haul both cargo and crew. With Kennedy Space Center back in astronaut-launching action, NASA can stop buying seats on Russian Soyuz rockets which cost around $90 million apiece.
ARTICLE: JOSEPH MODICA
SCIENCE/HEALTH EDITOR: KYLE SMITH
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