Earlier this evening (Sunday, November 15th, 2020), NASA and SpaceX achieved another historical milestone. Six months after successfully sending astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the ISS with the Demo-2 mission, the US demonstrated the restoration of domestic launch capability by sending the fully-crewed Crew Dragon spacecraft (Resilience) on an operational mission to the ISS.
The spacecraft launched at 07:27 PM EST (4:27 PM PST) atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Not only was this the first operational flight of a spacecraft as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), it was the first time a crewed mission to launch from American soil since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011.
The crew for this mission consists of four astronauts from NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). They include NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins (Commander), pilot Victor Glover, astronaut Shannon Walker, and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi. With the exception of Glover, all crew members have visited the ISS as part of an Expedition crew.
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In honor of all the struggling families and people who have been affected by the global pandemic, SpaceX chose to name the Crew Dragon that would be taking the four astronauts to the ISS Resilience. For the previous flight involving a Crew Dragon (Demo-2), astronauts Behnken and Hurley named their spacecraft Endeavour after the Space Shuttle that had taken both astronauts on their maiden flight to space.
While Demo-2 was the first crewed spaceflight to launch from U.S. soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011 (STS-135), Crew-1 is the first operational mission that will ferry astronauts to the ISS for a long duration stay. Once they arrive, they will join the three crewmembers already there – Sergei Ryzhikov (commander), Sergey Kud-Sverchkov (flight engineer 1), and Kathleen Rubins (flight engineer 2) – to form ISS Expedition 64.
Assuming everything goes according to schedule and the regular ISS is adhered to, Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov, and Rubins will depart the ISS in April 2021, leaving the Crew-1 astronauts to commence Expedition 65.
The entire event was live-streamed via NASA TV and the video of the liftoff can be watched above. SpaceX live-Tweeted all the major developments, signaling that liftoff had taken place at 04:30 PM PST (07:30 PM EST) that the second stage had completed its burn seven minutes later, and that the spacecraft had separated from the second stage and was on its way to the ISS eleven minutes after launch.
SpaceX also reported the successful retrieval of the first stage booster of the Falcon 9 rocket, which landed aboard their “Just Read the Instructions” drone ship 11 minutes after launch. NASA also announced the success of the launch via Twitter, stating:
President-elect Joe Biden took to Twitter shortly after the launch to congratulate NASA and SpaceX on their historic accomplishment:
“Congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on today’s launch. It’s a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination. I join all Americans and the people of Japan in wishing the astronauts Godspeed on their journey.”
Vice President Mike Pence followed at 06:12 PM PST (09:12 EST), tweeting:
Today, America celebrates another historic milestone with the launch of @NASA’s @SpaceX Crew-1: the 1st operational mission of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to the @Space_Station & only the second time in nearly 10yrs American Astronauts launched into Space from American Soil!
NASA just commenced their post-launch news conference on NASA TV, which kicked off at 09:30 PM EST (06:30 PM PST) and features commentary by Jim Bridenstine (NASA Administrator), Kathy Lueders (AA for human exploration and operations), Hiroshi Sasaki (VP and Director General of JAXA), Steve Dickson (FAA Administrator), and Gwynne Shotwell (SpaceX president and COO).
Also, you can catch up the mission highlights by checking out NASA Live!
Further Reading: NASA