CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A SpaceX Falcon 9 lifted-off from America’s Space Coast on Sunday evening with four astronauts beginning the first flight of an operational Crew Dragon spacecraft.
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi are on course to dock with the International Space Station on Monday. They are scheduled to live and work aboard the orbital outpost for six months.
Crew Dragon 1 thundered away from the Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39-A at 7:27:17 p.m. EST, riding a top the Falcon 9. The candlestick rocket darted out over the Atlantic waters to begin its chase of the space station.
“To all the people at NASA and SpaceX, by working through these difficult times you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part the name of this incredible vehicle,” Dragon commander Hopkins radioed minutes before launch. “And now it’s time to do our part — Crew One for all.”
The astronauts named their spacecraft Resilience to highlight the dedication of the teams involved with preparing the mission for flight. The successful launch occurred on the heels of a test flight by two NASA astronauts last May.
“I am extremely proud to say we are returning regular human spaceflight launches to American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Saturday. “This certification milestone is an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX that highlights the progress we can make working together with commercial industry.”
Ascent towards Orbit
Nearly three minutes into Resilience‘s launch, Falcon’s first stage engines shutdown. The first stage then separated and the second stage engines ignited to continue the journey to orbit.
As the four astronauts raced toward space, the Falcon’s separated first stage aimed for a pinpoint landing. The stage successfully landed at 7:36 p.m. aboard a Space X drone ship floating off shore of Jacksonville.
This booster will be cleaned up and reused for the Dragon Crew 2 launch in May.
Nine minutes into the flight, the Crew Dragon reached orbital insertion. The Resilience later separated from the second stage on time at 7:39 p.m.
“The Crew-1 mission is a major step for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program,” NASA spokesperson Marie Lewis said. “Operational, long duration commercial crew rotation missions will enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place onboard the station.”
Just over 27 hours following launch, Crew Dragon is scheduled to align for a docking to the orbiting outpost. One American and two Russians currently occupy the space station.
“This is a great day for the United States of America and a great day for Japan,” Bridenstine said following the launch. “We look forward to many more years of a great partnership — not just in low-Earth orbit but all the way to the Moon.”
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)