For the first time in nine years, the United States has finally launched astronauts into orbit from American soil. On May 30th at 3:22 p.m. EDT, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken embarked on a 19-hour flight to the International Space Station (ISS) to commence a possibly 4-month long mission aboard the ISS. This feat marks the beginning of a new era of spaceflight for the U.S: an era in which private companies like SpaceX can launch astronauts into orbit. The first launch attempt took place on Wednesday, May 27, but was unfortunately called off about 20 minutes before the scheduled liftoff due to poor weather. Luckily, the weather held up for the second attempt, and the launch took place exactly to plan. SpaceX had been pursuing this endeavour since 2014, when they signed a deal with NASA to fly six crewed missions to and from the ISS. The hard work of all of the individuals involved in this pursuit paid off with the success of this mission.
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are both experienced NASA astronauts and have both flown on two space shuttle missions. Before graduating from the same astronaut class of 2000, both Behnken and Hurley worked as test pilots for the U.S. Air Force, and earned mechanical and civil engineering degrees. The second of Hurley’s space shuttle missions was aboard space shuttle Atlantis, which also happened to be NASA’s final space shuttle flight.
A really interesting aspect of this mission is how SpaceX really embraced the whole “futuristic” look. From the astronauts’ suits to the interior of the Crew Dragon capsule, everything was made to look as if it came straight out of a sci-fi movie. One of the biggest contrasts was the control interface of Crew Dragon. Unlike the manual controls used on the space shuttle, Crew Dragon’s interface was entirely touch screen based and almost resembled a video-game interface. For all you video game nerds, SpaceX released a free in-browser video game based on the actual interface used by the astronauts to manually pilot the Dragon 2 vehicle to the ISS. Believe me when I say it’s WAY harder than it looks.
Following a tradition that traces back to the beginnings of American space flight, Hurley and Behnken got the opportunity to name the capsule that was to transport them to the ISS, and fittingly chose “Endeavour”. Both astronauts had experienced their first space flights on space shuttle Endeavour, and chose the name because of the incredible venture taken up by SpaceX and NASA to follow the legacy of the now-retired space shuttle to launch astronauts from the U.S.
Overall, watching the launch take place was completely awe-inspiring, and you could sense the excitement in everyone’s voices in the final seconds before liftoff. From the Apollo missions to SpaceX, this was a huge milestone for the future of spaceflight. Behnken and Hurley now join astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner aboard the ISS until August, when they will wrap up the test flight and return home.