Saturday’s successful launch of the Dragon rocket with two U. S. astronauts aboard marks the end of a nine-year gap in manned space launches. The rocket apparatus and docking capsule were distinctly different, having been designed and built by SpaceX, an Elon Musk company, rather than NASA.
The crew consisted of astronauts, Robert L. Behnken and Douglas O. Hurley. The last launch that included humans was in 2011. Previously, NASA was working with Russia to get astronauts to the space shuttle during those years from 2011 until now. After the successful docking and entry into the space station, SpaceX expects to take four more astronauts to the space station later in 2020.
“It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the people who got us here today,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “When I think about all of the challenges overcome – from design and testing, to paper reviews, to working from home during a pandemic and balancing family demands with this critical mission – I am simply amazed at what the NASA and SpaceX teams have accomplished together. This is just the beginning; I will be watching with great anticipation as Bob and Doug get ready to dock to the space station tomorrow, and through every phase of this historic mission.”
SpaceX controlled the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4, the former space shuttle control room, which SpaceX has leased as its primary launch control center. SpaceX commanded the spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, California. NASA teams monitored space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
NASA has been working with both SpaceX and Boeing to get the program going and plans to use it to continue supporting the space station and to foster more commercial uses. NASA says this plan has been much less expensive than if they had done it themselves.