SpaceX Crew Dragon Launches Into History

These folks make it look easy. I almost forgot how many attempts it took to land that Falcon rocket back on that drone ship in the middle of nowhere.

ASDS Drone Ship

The promise of an economical system to retrieve and reuse rockets for launch services became what is now known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. This barge structure uses GPS and Azimuth thrusters to coordinate the landing of a reusable rocket onto the barge-like ship for retrieval and reconditioning. Without this piece, SpaceX would be dead in the water.

This was the type of technological tenacity that sealed the deal with NASA for a $2.6 billion contract for 6 more operational flights. They’ve been shipping cargo to the International Space Station for years now. There is little doubt that they can’t make things happen.

Apollo Style Space Suit

But can you imagine the early days in the NASA / SpaceX relationship? The head banging on both sides of the table at the initial kick off meetings must have been something to see. Talk about a generation gap! It’s easy to picture NASA as the old stodgy grandfather. Lest you forget that the old stodgy grandpa is still asking his dad (aka “The US Government”) for the keys to the spaceship and an increase in his allowance.

Then there’s SpaceX. Depending on the time of day, SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk places between 7th and 30th on Forbes billionaire list.  This billionaire has his eyes on outer space. And he is not going to make a little thing like time or money get in the way.

After postponing due to weather, they were finally a go for launch and this team did not disappoint.

As for me, I am not a space geek. So, I am unprepared to tackle tech on this subject. But I do watch in wonder at what the space program has accomplished in my lifetime.

We’ve become so blasé about launching people and payloads into space. The International Space Station has been up there, continuously occupied for almost 20 years. Sure, it’s just low orbit. But it still takes more than a little road trip to get there.

The significance of this launch is that it is an American spacecraft launching from America. Up until now, we’ve been hitching a ride with the Russians on their Soyuz spacecraft to the tune of $80 million a pop.

I was glued to my TV Saturday as the count down started. There is an elation and a feeling of accomplishment even though I had no part in the details. You know that somewhere there is a huge team of people mentally and physically checking off their checklists and holding their collective breaths as they wait for the next iteration of tasks.

This mission was a far cry from other manned missions of my youth. Gone was the shiny NASA Airstream which carried the astronauts to Launchpad 39A. This time astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley rode in style in a Tesla Model X. No surprise there!

Tesla NASA

Lucky for them they had new, stylish spacesuits that allowed them to move freely in that Tesla and walk around the launch complex unencumbered. A lot of design time went into those space suits. Musk went to Hollywood and found costume designer Jose Fernandez of “Batman vs. Superman” and “X-Men” fame to collaborate on a design which is comfortable, functional and stylish. Musk, a design visionary in his own right wanted to create a suit which would elevate and excite future generations to space exploration.

Astronauts parking the Tesla Model X

These suits are impressive and significantly cheaper than their NASA counterparts. But to be fair, they aren’t made for spacewalks. Just for traveling.  Think of them as the same as your favorite pair of sweats that you wear on a long overseas flight. Great for point to point. But not adequate for an emergency landing!

They are custom made and weigh about 45 lbs. There is a connection port at the thigh area which delivers their communications and life support requirements. The helmet is made via 3D printing and has the necessary visor controls and communications. The gloves are specially designed for the touch screen monitors aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. This is the first live test for these suits. They had been worn by dummies on previous missions.

Everything from here on out is testing. Even though the spacecraft can autopilot to the space station, part of the test script calls for the manual flight controls to be tested.

Just for fun, I’ve included a link to the SpaceX Flight Simulator.

Try your skill at docking the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Be careful though! If you come in hot, it’ll leave a mark.

SpaceX Flight Simulator

Crew Dragon made it to the International Space Station on time, Sunday morning. This is an open-ended mission which will last between 1 month and no more than 6 months.

I’ll leave the light on for them.

I understand Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team is getting ready for their turn one of these days. It’s the Battle for Space- Billionaire’s Edition. This should be good.

Take care, Everyone and don’t forget to wash your hands!


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