NASA calls the flight its first “operational” mission for a missile and crew vehicle system that has been in operation for 10 years.
SpaceX, the rocket company owned by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, was scheduled to launch four astronauts on Sunday on a flight to the International Space Station, NASA’s first full-fledged mission to send a crew aboard a private spacecraft into orbit.
The company’s redesigned Crew Dragon capsule, which the crew has dubbed Resilience, was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 7:27 p.m. Eastern Time (12:27 GMT on Monday) lifted off the United States.
The 27-hour drive to the space station, an orbiting laboratory about 400 km above the earth, was originally supposed to start on Saturday.
However, the launch has been postponed for a day due to predictions of gusty winds – remnants of Tropical Storm Eta – which would have made a return landing difficult for the Falcon 9’s reusable booster phase, NASA officials said.
NASA calls the flight its first “operational” mission for a missile and crew vehicle system that has been in operation for 10 years. It represents a new era of commercially developed spacecraft owned and operated by a private entity, not NASA, to put Americans into orbit.
“This is the culmination of years of work and effort by many people and a lot of time,” Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs, told reporters on Friday. “We have built one of the safest launchers and spacecraft ever.”
A test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon in August with only two astronauts to and from the space station was NASA’s first human space mission in nine years to launch from US soil after the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
In recent years, US astronauts have had to put trips on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft into orbit.
The Resilience crew includes Commander Mike Hopkins and two other NASA astronauts, mission pilot Victor Glover and physicist Shannon Walker. The Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will make his third voyage into space, having flown with the US shuttle in 2005 and with Soyuz in 2009.
Musk, the billionaire to the SpaceX board chairman who is also CEO of electric car maker and battery maker Tesla Inc, is unlikely to be watching the launch from the Kennedy Space Center launch control room as usual, NASA officials said. Musk said Saturday that he “most likely” has a moderate case of COVID-19.
The countdown clock pauses after three hours while a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon capsule sits on the launch pad of Launch Complex 39A in Florida [Chris O’Meara/AP Photo]SpaceX and NASA conducted contact tracing and determined that Musk had not come into contact with anyone who interacted with the astronauts.
“Our astronauts have been in quarantine for weeks and shouldn’t have had contact with anyone,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine on Friday. “You should be in good shape.”
NASA commissioned SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to develop competing space capsules that aim to replace the shuttle program and free the US from reliance on Russian missiles to send astronauts into space.