Aerospace company SpaceX and NASA launched the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft in the early hours of Saturday morning from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, marking a significant step forward in NASA again being able to send astronauts to space without the assistance of its international partners.
“I proudly congratulate the SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation’s space history,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said of the launch, per an agency press release. “This first launch of a space system designed for humans, and built and operated by a commercial company through a public-private partnership, is a revolutionary step on our path to get humans to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”
The Demo-1 flight test launched just before 8 a.m. GMT on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. While the flight test does not carry a human crew, it does have something like a passenger. A dummy called Ripley – so-named for Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley in the 1979 science fiction movie Alien – is carrying sensors intended to help SpaceX engineers keep tabs on the journey, according to Space.com.
Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX’s vice president of build and flight reliability, said during a Thursday press conference that Ripley will “measure forces, acceleration and the environment itself”. Koenigsmann said her purpose is to help determine how astronauts will feel sitting her place. Ripley, who engineers endearingly refer to as a “smartie”, got a special shoutout on Twitter from SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk on Friday.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 1, 2019
“I would just like to express a very strong note of appreciation for the SpaceX team. It’s been 17 years to get to this point,” Musk, who founded the aerospace company in 2002, said during a press conference following the launch. “I’d like to also express a great appreciation for NASA. SpaceX would not be here without NASA, without the incredible work that was done before SpaceX even started, and without the support after SpaceX did start.”
Demo-1 is transporting more than 180 kilograms of equipment and supplies to the International Space Station, according to NASA. Barring any issues with its rendezvous and dock with the ISS on Sunday morning, the spacecraft will remain at the ISS up until March 8. It will then undock and head back to Earth before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean.
Provided the mission is successful and following further testing, a Demo-2 crewed test flight could be heading to the ISS in July. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are set to fly the historic crewed mission. Following Saturday’s launch, Behnken tweeted a note of congratulations to both SpaceX and the American space agency “for getting us another step closer to launching humans from American soil again!”.
Featured photo: Terry Renna (AP)