CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket crackled through the sky Sunday evening, carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft "Resilience" to orbit and marking the beginning of a new era of human spaceflight for NASA.
The Crew-1 mission features the first SpaceX launch with a full crew, as NASA this week certified Elon Musk's venture as the first private company with an operational system to launch astronauts to-and-from space. It's a historic milestone for SpaceX, coming after years of work to develop and test its spacecraft to fly people regularly to orbit.
"To the Falcon 9 team, well done. That was one heck of a ride; there was a lot of smiles," NASA astronaut and Resilience commander Mike Hopkins said from space. "But also to the SpaceX recovery and launch teams, and all of the NASA teams and [Department of Defense] teams, we wouldn't be up here in [low Earth orbit] without your support."
"Making history is definitely hard and you guys all made it look easy," Hopkins added.
Musk tweeted a single heart emoji shortly after Resilience reached orbit.
Crew Dragon Resilience is carrying NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The astronauts are headed for the International Space Station, expected to dock with the space station on Monday evening. They will spend the next six months on board the ISS, spending time conducting microgravity studies and other scientific research.
Crew-1 also comes less than six months after the company's historic final demonstration mission, which launched a pair of astronauts on a test flight in May and represented the company's first launch with people on board.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule is an evolved version of its Cargo Dragon spacecraft, which has launched to the space station 20 times. Just as Cargo Dragon was the first privately developed spacecraft to bring supplies to the ISS, so Crew Dragon is the first privately developed spacecraft to bring people.
The company developed Crew Dragon under NASA's Commercial Crew program, which which provided the company with more than $3 billion to develop the system and launch six operational missions. Crew-1 represents the first of those six missions for SpaceX, with NASA now benefiting from the investment it made in the company's spacecraft development.
Commercial Crew is a competitive program, as NASA also awarded Boeing with $4.8 billion in contracts to develop its Starliner spacecraft — but that competing capsule remains in development due to an uncrewed flight test that experienced significant challenges nearly a year ago.
Congratulations for SpaceX and NASA came in across social media, including from Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin and President-elect Joe Biden.
President Donald Trump tweeted that it was "a great launch." He also said "NASA was a closed up disaster when we took over," although the Commercial Crew program was funded under the administration of President Barack Obama.
Beyond flying missions for NASA, SpaceX also plans to use Crew Dragon spacecraft for other missions. Those include space tourism, as the company has so far unveiled two deals to fly privately paying people to space on Crew Dragon as early as next year.
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