A New Era of Spaceflight?


Nathan Kong, Staff Writer

2011 was the year I graduated from elementary school. It was also the same year of the last US crewed shuttle launch. One of these things is a pretty significant milestone in the progress of America; can you guess which one? In all seriousness, though, this is big for spaceflight in the US. The launch, postponed from its original date of May 27th took place on May 30th, with Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken taking off from Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 PM from pad 39A, the same launch pad which took the crew of Apollo 11 to the moon. Twelve minutes after launch, the spacecraft’s Crew Dragon capsule separated from its Falcon 9 booster rocket and was successfully sent into orbit amidst the cheers from those in mission control. The Falcon 9 booster would begin its earthward-bound descent where it was graciously received by SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport droneship Of Course I Still Love You, and Hurley and Behnken were sent on their 19-hour journey to the ISS.

Now this is all well and good, but what does this mean for spaceflight in the US? NASA officials say that this could usher in a new era of spaceflight that is reliant on private companies, rather than the government. Who knows, more companies may follow in SpaceX’s steps, opening up more opportunities for private citizens and corporations to make the leap into space.

Approximately 19 hours after initial launch, the Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked with the ISS, representing the culmination of many years of hard work on behalf of SpaceX. Behnken said, “It’s been a real honor to be such a small part of this nine-year endeavor since the last time a United States spaceship has docked with the International Space Station.” And not just any US Spaceship at that. The Crew Dragon capsule is the first private spacecraft in history to reach the ISS, something impressive in its own right.

Three hours after docking—the time being used to equalize cabin pressure between the station and spacecraft—Behnken and Hurley were greeted enthusiastically by those onboard the ISS. They plan to remain onboard for a number of months, at least until the next SpaceX capsule arrives. Interested in getting in on the private spaceflight action? According to Forbes, customers may be able to find a seat on the Crew Dragon for a whopping $20 million. The cost might seem prohibitive, but humanity’s never felt closer to the stars.