One Rocket Launch, One Giant Leap for Spaceflight

At 2:49 am on Saturday, March 2, Space X launched their Crew Dragon rocket capable of seating up to seven astronauts towards the International Space Station in what marked a historic first step towards commercial human spaceflight. Ever since humans launched the first man beyond the barrier separating our planet from the rest of the universe, we have always been captivated by the unknown expanse of space beyond this tiny blue orb we live on called earth. This launch signals a huge breakthrough for the future of space travel, particularly the future of travel to the International Space Station (ISS).

Crew Dragon, also known as Dragon 2, is a spacecraft specifically designed for cargo missions to the International Space Station, and is also able to carry up to seven people in its capsule. Launched on top of the Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon was meant to show the ability for SpaceX to safely and efficiently transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Although this flight was unmanned, it did have a passenger in the form of a mannequin called Ripley. To examine the effects of the flight and simulate what it would actually feel like for an astronaut to fly in the Dragon spacecraft, Ripley was covered with several sensors around its head and spine to monitor how the flight would feel for an astronaut. Along with Ripley, the spacecraft also transported an anthropomorphic plushie toy in the shape of earth!

Normally when flying to the International Space Station, astronauts launch off of earth inside Soyuz rockets, so the fact that the Crew Dragon was able to successfully dock with the ISS with the use of a specialized docking adapter is a huge win for the future of transporting humans from the US to the ISS. In fact, it was the first successful autonomous docking of a commercial crew capsule at the ISS! The capsule was able to guide itself into the docking area of the ISS without the help of the station’s robotic arm, which is a huge accomplishment, and was also successful in transporting about 181 kg of crew supplies and equipment for future missions. If the remainder of the mission and further tests are successful, NASA would finally be able to launch astronauts to the space station from US soil for the first time since 2011. This is also a huge benefit when it comes to reducing costs and offering alternative means of transport for astronauts. Rather than having to rely on the Soyuz spacecrafts, astronauts could have a backup Crew Dragon shuttle to safely get them into space and back home.

In the end, this launch was only just the beginning of a series of tests before astronauts can safely be launched to the ISS from Crew Dragon spacecrafts. However, it does mark a significant milestone in the future of human space travel, and at this rate, SpaceX is on track to be the very first private spaceflight company to send astronauts to the ISS.

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