Illuminating the night sky, four astronauts launched into orbit on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday for a 27-hour trip to the International Space Station in the first operational flight of the commercially developed Crew Dragon capsule.
Highlighting NASA’s ongoing efforts to end its sole dependence on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft, the engines of the first stage of the Falcon 9 ignited with a torrent of flaming exhaust at 7:27 p.m., pushing the 229-foot rocket away from the site. 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on top of 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
Commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, tied to a capsule they called “Sustainability,”
NASA and SpaceX rejected an attempt to launch on Saturday due to the expected strong winds along the Florida space coast and stormy sea, which prevented the spacecraft to restore the SpaceX amplifier to reach its offshore station in time.
Coastal weather was a problem for most of Sunday, but threatening clouds and rain did not materialize, and after work at the last minute to re-seal the Crew Dragon hatch, the Falcon 9 was released for take-off, exciting thousands of locals and tourists. , lining road beaches and beaches amid NASA warnings to follow coronavirus protocols.
Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, flew in to take over the historic launch from the upper deck of a NASA office complex a few miles from the launch pad.
And the Falcon 9 did not disappoint, penetrating the night sky, tracking a long stream of fiery exhaust system visible for miles around. For a minute the rocket was moving faster than the sound, and a minute and a half later, already far from the dense lower atmosphere, the engines stopped as planned.
The first reusable stage, which made its first flight, then dropped out and focused on touching the SpaceX spacecraft east of Carolina, while the second stage, powered by a vacuum-powered engine, continued its ascent into orbit.
Eight minutes and 50 seconds after takeoff, the second stage engine shut down, placing Hopkins and his crew in pre-orbit. Forty seconds later, the first stage landed safely, securing the 65th booster recovery of SpaceX, the 45th at sea.
Restoring the first phase was a major goal of the launch, as SpaceX plans to upgrade the rocket and use it for the next Crew Dragon launch in late March.
In any case, once the booster was lowered safely, the Crew Dragon capsule was released from the second stage of the Falcon 9 a few minutes later to move forward with a complex series of automated ejection shots to fine-tune the spacecraft’s approach to the space station. .
The initial phases of the meeting went smoothly, but SpaceX engineers encountered problems with the heaters used to keep the drive lines of the drive at the proper temperature. Three of the four heaters in a quadrilateral “quadrangle” appear to be offline, while flight rules require at least two of the four to operate.
“Temperature limits look good, but that’s something we’re investigating and discussing,” SpaceX communications officer Jay Aranha told the crew.
NASA later tweeted that “Teams have activated Crew Dragon’s fuel heaters and will continue to collect data,” followed by a tweet: “Update: @SpaceX confirms that the fuel heaters are working properly, without problems. Crew-1 continues its journey to @Space_Station. “
President Trump and President-elect Biden suggested strikingly contrasting tones in tweets after the launch, with Trump saying that @NASA was a closed disaster when we took power. It is now again the “hottest”, most advanced, space center in the world, far. ! “
Biden sent congratulations to NASA, calling the launch “a testament to the power of science and what we can achieve by using our innovation, ingenuity and determination.”
At the time of the launch, the station was sailing 259 miles over northern Syria. The Dragon crew will take 27 and a half hours to exactly match the orbits of the laboratory complex, approaching about 20 miles by 20:00 on Monday.
If all goes well, the spacecraft will pass about 1,300 feet below the station before turning to a point about 720 feet just in front of the outpost.
From there, Crew Dragon’s flight computer will direct the ship to a dock at the station’s harbor, the same one that was once used when visiting space shuttles, at 11pm on Monday as the two spacecraft fly over the west coast of the United States.
It will be a long-awaited return home for Hopkins, Walker and Noguchi. All three are veterans of earlier long-term expeditions. Glover, Navy F / A-18, an astronaut turned into a pilot, makes his first space flight. He was the first African-American to be assigned to the station’s full crew.
The commander of Expedition 64 Sergei Ryzhikov, Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will be ready to meet the astronauts from crew 1 on board the station. Rubins used NASA’s last currently agreed location in the Union when she and her two crew members blew up the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard the.
“It would be great to watch the Crew-1 crew go through this hatch and we would definitely welcome them on board, because with more crew members we can spend a lot more time researching and experimenting,” Rubins said before launch.
“There is some time that we have to spend only on maintaining the station, and with only one or two crew members from the United States and international partners, it is difficult to achieve all the science we want to do. members there means we can achieve this much more scientifically. “
Since 2006, NASA has spent $ 4 billion to purchase about 71 seats aboard the Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts from the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan to and from the station. Rubins’ headquarters, the last NASA plans to buy, costs $ 90 million.
While the Dragon crew and, ultimately, Boeingwill end NASA’s only reliance on Russia, this does not mean the end of joint flights.
NASA still plans to launch astronauts aboard the Soyuz spacecraft throughout the station’s lifetime program as a hedge against emergencies such as a serious illness, which could lead to the early departure of an American or Russian crew.
Mixed crews would provide at least one astronaut or astronaut on board the station at all times, regardless of the sudden departure of a Soyuz spacecraft or merchant crew, for the operation of national systems.
But these mixed flights, including the possible launch of Russian astronauts aboard the new US spacecraft, will be covered by barter agreements, not direct cash payments. NASA will still pay for seats aboard American spacecraft – the price is not yet known – but that money will be spent in the United States.