Four astronauts lit the night sky and went into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday for a 27-hour trip to the International Space Station in the worlda commercially developed Crew Dragon capsule.
The Falcon 9’s first stage engines, ignited at 7:27 p.m. with a stream of burning exhaust fumes, pushed the 229-foot rocket away from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, underscoring NASA’s continued drive to remain solely dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft quit on 1.7 million pounds of thrust.
Commander Michael Hopkins, the pilot Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and the Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, strapped into the capsule called Resilience, monitored the ascent on large touchscreen displays as the rocket accelerated rapidly and crossed the Atlantic to the northeast.
NASA and SpaceX ruled out a launch attempt on Saturday due to the expected strong winds on Florida’s Space Coast and rough seas that prevented a SpaceX booster salvage ship from reaching its offshore station in time.
The weather on land was an issue for most of Sunday, but looming clouds and rain did not occur and after last minute work on resealing the Crew Dragon’s hatch, the Falcon 9 was cleared for launch, bringing thousands of residents in the area enthusiastic and tourists lining streets and beaches along NASA warnings to follow coronavirus protocols.
Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, flew in to see the historic launch from the top deck of a NASA office complex a few kilometers from the launch pad.
And the Falcon 9 did not disappoint, roaming the night sky, followed by a long stream of fiery exhaust that was visible for miles. In a minute the rocket was moving faster than sound, and a minute and a half later, now well outside the dense lower atmosphere, the engines shut down as planned.
The reusable first stage, which made its maiden flight, then fell off and made its way to touchdown on a SpaceX drone ship stationed just east of the Carolinas while the second stage, powered by a single vacuum engine, made its way up continued into orbit.
Eight minutes and 50 seconds after takeoff, the second stage engine shut down and put Hopkins and his crewmembers into preliminary orbit. Forty seconds later, the first stage landed safely, recording SpaceX’s 65th booster recovery, 45th at sea.
Restoring the first stage was a primary goal of the launch as SpaceX plans to refurbish the rocket and use it for the next Crew Dragon launch in late March.
In either case, the Safe Booster Crew Dragon capsule was released from the second stage of the Falcon 9 a few minutes later to power a complex series of automated engine firings and optimize the spacecraft’s approach to the space station.
The first stages of the rendezvous went smoothly, but SpaceX engineers had problems with heaters keeping the engine’s fuel lines at the correct temperature. Three out of four heaters in a four-engine “quad” appeared to be offline, while flight rules require at least two out of four heaters to be operational.
“The temperature margins look okay, but we’re investigating and discussing that,” Jay Aranha, SpaceX communications officer, told the crew.
NASA later tweeted, “The teams have re-enabled the Crew Dragon’s fuel heaters and will continue to collect data.” Then there was a tweet with the words “Update:@ SpaceXconfirms that the fuel heaters are working properly without any problem. Crew-1 continues its journey to@Space station . “
President Trump and President-elect Biden offered strongly contrasting tones in tweets after the launch. Trump claimed: “@NASA was a closed disaster when we took over. Now it’s the ‘hottest’, most advanced space center in the world again, by far!”
Biden congratulated NASA, describing the launch as “a testament to the power of science and what we can achieve using our innovation, ingenuity and determination”.
At the time of launch, the station was sailing 259 miles over northern Syria. It will take 27 ½ hours for the Crew Dragon to accurately align the orbits with the laboratory complex. Monday.
If all goes well, the spaceship will pass approximately 1,300 feet below the station before dragging to a point approximately 720 feet directly in front of the outpost.
From there, the Crew Dragon’s flight computer will guide the ship at 11 p.m. to dock at the station’s forward port, which was once also used to visit space shuttles. Monday as the two spaceships sail over the west coast of the United States.
It will be a long-awaited homecoming for Hopkins, Walker, and Noguchi. All three are veterans of previous long-term station expeditions. Glover, a Navy F / A-18 pilot turned astronaut, makes his first space flight. He is the first African American to be assigned to a full-time station crew.
Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergei Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins are ready to welcome the Crew 1 astronauts aboard the station. Rubins was using NASA’s last currently contracted Soyuz headquarters when she and her two crew members took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on October 14th.
“It will be great to see the Crew 1 crew come through this hatch and we will definitely see them aboard as we can spend a lot more time on scientific research and experimentation with more crew members,” said Rubins start beforehand.
“There is a certain amount of time that we just have to spend maintaining the stations, and with just one or two members of the US and international partner crew, it is difficult to do all of the science we want to do. So if we all have those extra crew members. ” Members there means we can do that much more scientifically. “
Since 2006, NASA has spent $ 4 billion buying 71 seats on board Soyuz spacecraft to transport U.S., European, Canadian, and Japanese astronauts to and from the station. Rubins’ seat, the last NASA plans to buy, cost $ 90 million.
During the Crew Dragon and eventually Boeingwill end NASA’s sole dependence on Russia does not mean the end of joint flights.
NASA continues to plan to launch astronauts aboard Soyuz spacecraft throughout the station’s program to cover emergencies such as a serious illness that could lead to the premature departure of a US or Russian crew ship.
Mixed crews would ensure that there is always at least one astronaut or cosmonaut on the station, regardless of the sudden departure of a Soyuz or commercial occupation ship to operate their nation’s systems.
However, these mixed flights, including the possible launch of Russian cosmonauts aboard the new American spacecraft, are covered by exchange agreements rather than direct cash payments. NASA will continue to pay for seats on board US spacecraft – the cost is not yet known – but that money is being spent in the US.