Elon Musk’s dream realised as NASA astronauts take off

SpaceX, NASA, Elon Musk

The long held dream of Elon Musk to fly astronauts into space has been realised as two NASA astronauts have taken off safely and are thundering towards the International Space Station.

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX has become the first private company to launch people into orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the US, Russia and China. The launch had to be aborted with 17 minutres to go on Wednesday.

“This is something that should really get people right in the heart of anyone who has any spirit of exploration,” Elon Musk, the visionary also behind the Tesla electric car company, said after liftoff, pounding his chest with his fist.

“I am really quite overcome with emotion – it’s kind of hard to talk really.

“It’s been 18 years working towards this goal. It’s really hard to believe that it’s happened.

“This is a craft made by humans, for humans, I think it’s something humanity should be proud about occurring on this day.”

Two of NASA’s most experienced astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are in SpaceX’s full-automous Crew Dragon, which was at the tip of Space X’s Falcon 9 rocket as it took off from NASA’s John F Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, the same site used for the first moon landing in 1969.

When the rocket reached their initial orbit after nine minutes, part of the rocket returned to earth to be reused. Crew Dragon used the second stage of the rocket to get into orbit. Fourteen minutes after take off Crew Dragon separated from the rocket and is heading towards the International Space Station with its arrival due 19 hours later.

Over the next 19 hours, Crew Dragon will execute a series of burns to keep raising its orbit until its in line with the ISS. There will be five major burns before the final approach.

“I’ve heard that rumble before but it’s a whole different feeling when you’ve got your own team on that rocket,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“They are our team, they are America’s team, this is Launch America, this is everything America has to offer in its purest form.”

Bridenstine hoped the launch has helped inspire people.

“We’ve got the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve got other challenges as a country but I hope this moment in time is an opportunity for everybody to reflect on humanity and what we can do when we work together,” he said.

“If this can inspire a young child to become the next Elon Musk, or the next Jeff Bezos, or the next Sir Richard Branson, then that’s what this is all about.”

The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA. After retiring the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station.

Over the past few years, NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them US$7 billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation. Boeing’s spaceship, the Starliner capsule, is not expected to fly astronauts until early 2021, AP News reported.

US President Donald Trump, facing civil unrest over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, Georgia, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Utah, Texas and the District of Columbia, was at the John F Kennedy Space Center for the take-off. Trump promised US astronauts will return to the Moon by 2024 to “establish a permanent presence and a launching pad to Mars”.

“The first woman on the Moon will be an American woman and the first nation to land on Mars will be the United States of America,” the US President said.

NASA will continue to use commercial partners as it pursues it next goals of sending astronauts back to the moon within a few years, and on to Mars in the 2030s.

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