SpaceX Launches Successful Spacecraft to the International Space Station

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Hannah Kutnick, Writer

SpaceX, an American manufacturer of aerospace and space transportation products, launched four astronauts from Kennedy Space Center in Merritt Island, Florida to the International Space Station aboard their Crew Dragon capsule on November 15, 2020 with partnership from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). After SpaceX’s test mission on May 30, 2020, in which two NASA astronauts were sent to the space station, this was the company’s first fully operational crewed mission, making the launch monumental for both NASA and SpaceX. 

At around 7:27 p.m. Eastern time, SpaceX launched their Falcon 9 rocket into the atmosphere during the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon capsule. After one minute of the approximately twenty-seven hour trip, the rocket was travelling faster than sound. The beginning went as planned. The engines shut down after the rocket passed the lower atmosphere, and the first stage fell away and landed safely. This was an important goal of SpaceX’s for this mission, and they plan to reuse the rocket for another Crew Dragon launch in March. The second stage engine shut down at the right time, and the Crew Dragon capsule was separated from the Falcon 9’s second stage. 

However, the propellant heaters of the Crew Dragon capsule began to have problems. These heaters are used to maintain the correct temperature of the thruster propellant lines. A minimum of two out of the four heaters in one four-thruster group are required to be working, but it seemed that only one of the four were on-line. SpaceX engineers managed to fix the problem and NASA tweeted, “the propellant heaters are functioning properly with no issues.”

Originally, NASA planned to launch the Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday, November 14, which would have made the capsule reach the International Space Station in about eight hours instead of twenty-seven. The launch was delayed to the following Sunday due to Hurricane Eta and the bad weather it brought with it. 

Aboard the capsule they named “Resilience,” were four astronauts, Commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. Hopkins, Walker and Noguchi had all been to the space station on previous missions, while it was Glover’s first space flight. Before becoming an astronaut, Glover was a Navy F/A-18 carrier pilot, and his assignment to the full-duration station crew makes him the first African American with this position. 

There was another surprise guest aboard the Crew Dragon capsule. The crew chose a plush version of Baby Yoda from the Disney+ Star Wars series, “The Mandalorian,” as their zero-gravity indicator. At a news conference on November 19 from the space station, Hopkins said, “It’s been a tough year. And the fact that … SpaceX and NASA were able to get our spacecraft ready to go, the rocket ready to go, throughout this year, throughout the pandemic, and all of that — we were inspired by everybody’s effort to do that. And so that’s why we named Resilience, and we hope that it puts a smile on people’s faces, it brings hope to them. Baby Yoda does the same thing. I think everybody, when you see him, it’s hard not to smile, and so it just seemed appropriate.”

With SpaceX’s new developments in space technology and their partnership with NASA, NASA will no longer need to rely solely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to transport astronauts to the International Space Station like they have had to since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011. This will hopefully allow more people to run experiments and maintain the space station, while preventing it from being understaffed as it has been on multiple occasions in the last few years. 

“It’s going to be great to watch the Crew-1 crew come through that hatch, and we’ll definitely welcome them on board because with more crew members, we can spend a lot more time doing scientific research and experiments,” said Kate Rubins, an American microbiologist and NASA astronaut aboard the International Space Station. “There’s a certain amount of time we have to devote just to station maintenance, and with only one or two U.S. and international partner crew members, it’s hard to get all of the science done that we want to do. So having all these extra crew members there means we can accomplish that much more scientifically.”