It was a historic weekend for human spaceflight.
On Saturday, May 30, SpaceX launched NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley en route to the International Space Station (ISS) in the first manned launch from U.S. soil since the shuttle program was discontinued in 2011.
The goal of the mission, Demo-2, is to demonstrate a successful round trip to the ISS and back, where Behnken and Hurley are slated to remain for upwards of 110 days. The flight was originally scheduled for May 27, but was postponed due to weather concerns.
The launch vehicle, Falcon 9, which carried the astronauts up top in the Crew Dragon capsule, took off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 p.m. EDT. After detaching from Crew Dragon, Falcon 9 successfully landed on
The spacecraft was commercially built by the privately-owned SpaceX. Its launch marks the first time a private company has launched humans to orbit, and, as Hurley speculated during a mid-flight video, perhaps the first time a space vehicle has flown with touch screen controls. In the same video, Behnken noted that he and Hurley were “surprised” at how well they slept aboard the vehicle during their 8-hour sleep period.
In a tradition that has been held since Project Mercury, Hurley ceremoniously named their capsule “Endeavor.”
The name, Hurley explained, was selected as a tribute to “the incredible endeavor that NASA, SpaceX and the United States has been on since the end of the Shuttle program back in 2011,” as well as how he and Behnken had their debut spaceflights aboard Space Shuttle Endeavor.
Crew Dragon docked with the ISS on May 31 at 10:16 a.m. EDT and were welcomed by its current occupants, Expedition 63, upon their entrance shortly thereafter. While aboard the ISS, Behnken and Hurley will conduct tests on the spacecraft.
According to a Verge Science video, the U.S. previously had to pay Russia millions of dollars to send Americans to the ISS via Soyuz rockets. Now, control has been restored to U.S. soil. While NASA still pays a fee to SpaceX, the switch supports American business while eliminating reliance on a separate nation and its potential variables.
The success of the launch and docking hails what is being widely referred to as a new era of spaceflight.
To learn more about Crew Dragon and the Demo-2 mission, visit spacex.com.