SpaceX is starting to become familiar with human spaceflight

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Thanks to clear skies and clear seas, SpaceX successfully launched four more astronauts for NASA on a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday evening.

Flying atop a once-used Falcon 9 first stage, the Crew Dragon spacecraft soared in thin clouds above Kennedy Space Center and safely reached orbit. The first stage subsequently returned to Earth, landing on a drone ship. The crew – NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, as well as European astronaut Matthias Maurer – will dock at the International Space Station on Thursday evening.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the Wednesday night launch is that it looked almost routine.

It has been less than 18 months since SpaceX took the extraordinary step of becoming the first private company to launch humans into orbit, with a demonstration flight that took NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the space station, thus reaching heights. previously reached only by the national space agencies of Russia, the United States and China.

Since then, Crew Dragon has launched three additional missions for NASA, in addition to the Inspiration4 private flight this fall. It’s a pretty quick cadence right from the start. The space shuttle, with its standing army of thousands upon thousands of civil servants and contractors, completed its fifth mission after 19 months.

Crew Dragon is the result of a partnership between NASA and SpaceX over the past decade. Anticipating the space shuttle’s retreat, NASA worked with SpaceX and Boeing to privately develop launch systems to transport astronauts into low Earth orbit. When the final contracts were signed in 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were expected to each carry out one mission per year. Boeing, however, ran into technical difficulties with the development of its Starliner spacecraft, so Crew Dragon had to do double duty right from the start.

“I think we’re incredibly grateful for the partnership we’ve had,” said Kathy Lueders, head of human space flight operations for NASA, during a post-launch press conference for the NASA-SpaceX team. “You know, when I started working in the commercial crew, six or seven years ago, it would have been a dream for me that we would fly these four missions one after the other. Because it’s a really hard thing to do. So I have ‘I’m incredibly proud of this united team. “

Cadence is even more impressive considering SpaceX also recently unveiled an updated version of its Cargo Dragon spacecraft. Including crew and cargo missions, SpaceX launched or landed a Dragon spacecraft every month in 2021, with the exception of February and March.

The launch on Wednesday night also took place less than 47 hours after another Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying four astronauts crashed off the coast of Florida. This set a record for the minimum time between a human landing and the next launch of a crew vehicle.

Sarah Walker, SpaceX Director of Mission Management Dragon, He was quick to attribute the company’s success in getting so deftly into the path of human spaceflight to partnership with NASA.

“Human spaceflight was the reason we were founded,” Walker said. “So it’s incredibly meaningful to the whole team. We couldn’t be more excited to finally be here and to be on the shoulders of giants with this partnership with NASA.”

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