SpaceX Successfully Launches and Docks Crew Dragon to the ISS


Catherine Chan, Staff Writer

It is not quite similar to hopping on a commuter flight from New York to Los Angeles or finding the next train station, yet Sunday’s launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in a capsule manufactured and operated by SpaceX, the rocket company started by Elon Musk, was a momentous step towards making space travel mundane and the beginning of a new era for NASA.

It is hoped that in the future, rather than depending on government-operated spacecrafts, NASA astronauts and anyone else with the money can purchase a ticket to board a ride on the commercial rocket to outer space.

“This is truly a commercial launch vehicle,” said Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, during a post-launch news conference held by The New York Times. “We’re grateful to our partners at SpaceX for providing it.”

Despite the weather—forecasts revealed only a 50-50 chance of favorable conditions at the launchpad of the spacecraft—at 7:27 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 15, the nine engines of the Falcon 9 rocket roared to life and illuminated the night sky as the rocket arced to the northeast over the vast Atlantic Ocean. The 229-foot-tall rocket pushes away from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop 1.7 million pounds of dust.

With millions of viewers across the globe watching the live, historic launch, NASA’s commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi of Japan’s JAXA space agency, departed from the Florida Kennedy Space Center into the speckling, celestial setting of outer space. The four astronauts decided to name their capsule Resilience to provide a sense of hope and inspiration during an especially difficult year for the entire world. They shared their experiences by broadcasting a tour of Resilience on Monday to show their touchscreen controls, storage areas, and zero gravity indicator: a small plush Baby Yoda. 

At the moment of the launch, the ISS was sailing approximately 259 miles above northern Syria. Travelling over 17,000 miles per hour, the Crew Dragon safely docked with the ISS around 11:00 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 16 after 27.5 hours in the capsule. The four astronauts will now stay at this space station, which is circling 262 miles (422 kilometers) above Earth, until their replacements arrive on another Dragon in April 2021. 

“SpaceX, this is Resilience. Excellent job, right down the center,” said commander Hopkins through the radio to mission control after the docking. “SpaceX and NASA, congratulations.”

The Dragon crew is expected to spend a total of six months in orbit, joining three others who previously arrived aboard the ISS on a Russian Soyuz rocket that was launched on Oct. 14 from Kazakhstan. Upon landing, Glover, a space rookie, became the first Black astronaut to serve as a member of the station’s crew in the past two decades of people who have lived aboard the ISS. While there are other Black astronauts who have previously been aboard the space station, they were there on much shorter period stays during space shuttle missions that aided in assembling the orbiting outpost. Commander Hopkins later presented Glover his diamond-studded, gold astronaut pin on Nov. 16.

SpaceX’s founder and CEO Elon Musk was unable to attend the launch on Nov. 15, after publicly announcing last week that he received contradictory results on four separate COVID-19 tests. While this is the second astronaut mission for SpaceX, it is the first time Elon Musk’s company has delivered a crew for a full half-year station stay.

Throughout the next six months at the ISS, the seven astronauts will work on a variety of science experiments and conduct space walks to continue updates and repairs on the space station’s exterior, until their replacements arrive aboard the ISS in six months.


Photo courtesy of PHILLYVOICE.COM