SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft headed to space atop one of its own Falcon 9 rockets early Saturday morning as part of a test of the crew module that will soon ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
According to CNBC, the successful launch was a very big deal for both SpaceX and NASA, which desperately needs a new way to get its scientists to the ISS without relying on Russian rocket launches, but it wasn’t the only big test of Crew Dragon this weekend. The spacecraft also docked with the International Space Station and, for the first time ever, astronauts got a chance to explore it in space.
“To be frank. I am a little emotionally exhausted because that was super stressful,” Musk said in a press conference with NASA after SpaceX test-launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft on the Falcon 9 rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Saturday.
The launch was one for the record books: “For the first time in history, a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket, which launched from American soil, is on its way to the International Space Station,” said a NASA press release.
The Crew Dragon successfully docked with the ISS and, after a little bit of preparation, the astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory opened the door and floated inside. The scientists took readings from the interior of the Crew Dragon, and were equipped with breathing aids to ensure they wouldn’t be in any danger if the atmosphere inside the capsule wasn’t perfect.
Because everything went pretty much perfectly, and now it’s clear that SpaceX is in the lead and ahead of competitor Boeing in the race to provide NASA with the means to send astronauts into space whenever it wants.
Boeing, which is working on the much-hyped Starliner crewed spacecraft, has yet to send it into space and perform any kind of preliminary uncrewed test flight to the space station.
Last week, upon completing its pre-launch reviews, NASA estimated that if the demonstration flight went well we could see crewed flights within a few months. That timeline looks to still be intact after a solid showing by the Crew Dragon.