As we congratulate SpaceX on the success of the launch and docking of Crew Demo-1, we wish them continued success in completing this critical test flight. Eight years ago, NASA ceased their Space Shuttle program leaving the space agency reliant on other vehicles to get them to the International Space Station. In that time, they have contracted two companies, SpaceX and Boeing, to design and manufacture capsules able to launch humans to low-Earth orbit, as detailed in this recent blog post.
SpaceX has a proven track record with their Dragon capsule. It’s an unmanned spacecraft delivering much needed supplies and equipment to the space station since 2012. Now, the Dragon has been modified to carry passengers. For the Demo-1 mission, Crew Dragon launched with a ‘dummy’ onboard and some supplies. The capsule is conducting a ‘dress rehearsal’ of a crewed mission with docking to the space station and staying there for five days, then undocking and returning to Earth with a splash down in the Atlantic. NASA will be monitoring the capsule at all times for any anomalies that will be analyzed and corrected before flying again. If all goes according to plan, the Crew Dragon capsule could launch again later this year with NASA astronauts onboard.
It’s an exciting time for Elon Musk, his team at SpaceX, and the entire space community. Not only is the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon capsule the first commercial launch system in operation, but SpaceX has been working relentlessly to make them reusable. Reusability of vehicles is something that is common with cars and airplanes, but not in the space launch industry. Everything has been built for a one-time use. The U.S. Space Shuttle was supposed to be reusable and it somewhat was, but the cost and time required to refurbish it after each mission was too high.
It has been said that access to space will only significantly increase through reusability. This uptick in launch is fundamentally needed to truly revolutionize how we explore and maintain a human presence in space. As I have detailed before, SpaceX has been landing and reusing the first stage boosters of their Falcon 9 (see photo below) and did so again with this launch. If SpaceX can demonstrate that a reusable crewed spacecraft is safe and reliable, the opportunities for expanding mankind’s presence in space are truly limitless. A new day is rising for humanity’s future.