Following the spectacular night launch Nov. 15 and subsequent rendezvous with the International Space Station a little more than a day later, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission is ready to begin a six-month science mission on the station – and a new chapter in human exploration of space.
The four-person crew successfully launched – aboard the first NASA-certified commercial human spacecraft system in history – at 6:27 p.m. CST from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The Crew Dragon spacecraft “Resilience,” carrying NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, was lofted by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Resilience docked autonomously with the space station’s Harmony module at 10:01 p.m. CST Nov. 16. The new crew was welcomed aboard shortly thereafter by the Expedition 64 crew, which includes Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and Flight Engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Kate Rubins of NASA.
The expanded Expedition 64 crew will conduct science and station maintenance, and will return to Earth in spring 2021 – marking the longest human space mission yet launched from the United States.
“This is an important mission for NASA, SpaceX, and our partners at JAXA,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “NASA is delivering on its commitment to the American people and our international partners to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective missions to the International Space Station using American private industry.”
Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, concurred. “I could not be more proud of the work we’ve done here,” she said. “Falcon 9 looked great, Dragon was dropped off into a beautiful orbit about 12 minutes into the mission, and we’ll get more data as we go.”
The mood was equally enthusiastic at Marshall Space Flight Center, where engineers spent months prior to launch supporting vehicle systems integration and checkout – including exhaustive tests, in partnership with SpaceX, to prepare the Crew Dragon’s mighty Merlin engines for flight.
“It was a beautiful night launch. We are thrilled with the liftoff of Crew-1 and this incredible accomplishment,” Marshall’s Steve Gaddis, launch vehicle deputy manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said. “Our team at Marshall leverages collective knowledge based on decades of launch experience. It is great to be part of the new era of commercial human spaceflight.”
The Crew-1 mission is the first of six crewed missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the Commercial Crew Program. This mission has several firsts, including:
• The first flight of the NASA-certified commercial system designed for crew transportation, which moves the system from development into regular flights;
• The first international crew of four to launch on an American commercial spacecraft;
• The first time the station’s expedition crew size will increase from six to seven crew members, adding to available research time; and
• The first time the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed a human orbital spaceflight launch.
The astronauts named their spacecraft Resilience to highlight the dedication of all contributing teams around the world and to demonstrate the limitlessness of human endeavor when they strive together for common goals.
The successful launch was “a special moment for NASA and our SpaceX team,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said. “I want to thank the teams for the amazing effort to make the next generation of human space transportation possible.”
“It is an honor to have our Japanese astronaut launch on this Crew-1 Dragon,” Hiroshi Sasaki, JAXA vice president, said. “We look forward to having him conduct lots of science and demonstrate the technology, for here on Earth and for the future. I would also like to thank NASA and SpaceX for their tremendous effort to make this happen.”
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program provides safe, reliable, cost-effective transportation to and from the space station from U.S. soil through a partnership with American private industry – opening access to low-Earth orbit and the space station to more people, more science, and more commercial opportunities.