Go, Dragon, go! First crewed space launch from American soil since 2011

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Video capture/NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Private spaceflight developer SpaceX and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Saturday afternoon launched two astronauts on a test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon space vehicle lifted by a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket, the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011 that astronauts have taken off from American soil.

A little more than nine minutes after launch, the reusable Falcon-9 first stage successfully landed on a SpaceX barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

The launch also marks the first time that NASA has sent astronauts into space in a privately-owned vehicle. The agency says of its “commercial crew” program:

“NASA identified a need for a crew transportation system and a broad set of requirements that would be necessary to ensure crew safety. In the case of commercial crew, the need centered around a safe, reliable and cost-effective means of getting humans to low-Earth orbit, including the International Space Station, and return safely to Earth. Interested companies are free to design in a way they think is best and are encouraged to apply their most efficient and effective manufacturing and business operating techniques. The companies own and operate their hardware and infrastructure. NASA’s engineers and aerospace specialists work closely with the commercial companies, allowing for substantial insight into the development process and offering up expertise and available resources.”

The mission, intended to test the capability of SpaceX vehicles to carry a human crew to space, is scheduled to take the crew to the International Space Station, docking Sunday, May 31. The astronauts will remain aboard the station with the current ISS crew for the next 30-90 days, before returning for an Atlantic Ocean splashdown reminiscent of the early Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

The astronauts

The SpaceX vehicle carried two NASA astronauts: spacecraft commander Douglas “Doug” Hurley and joint operations commander Robert “Bob” Behnken.

From NASA:

“Douglas G. Hurley was selected as an astronaut in 2000. A veteran of two spaceflights, he was the pilot on STS‐127 and STS‐135. Hurley holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Tulane University. Before joining NASA, he was a fighter pilot and test pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps. Hurley is currently training for the Demo 2 flight of SpaceX’s CrewDragon spacecraft, the first crewed flight for that vehicle.  He and his crewmates are working closely with SpaceX to develop their new spacecraft systems, which will provide roundtrip crew transportation services to the International Space Station and, along with Boeing’s Starliner, return the ability to launch humans into space from United States soil.

“Robert L. Behnken was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 2000 and is a veteran of two space shuttle flights. He is currently training for the Demo 2 flight of SpaceX’s CrewDragon spacecraft, the first crewed flight for that vehicle. Behnken and his crewmate are working closely with SpaceX to develop their new spacecraft systems, which will provide roundtrip crew transportation services to the International Space Station and, along with Boeing’s Starliner, return the ability to launch humans into space from United States soil. A native of Missouri, Behnken flew STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010, logging more than 708 hours in space, and more than 37 hours during six spacewalks.”

For more on the mission and program, visit www.nasa.gov/exploration/commercial/crew/index.html.

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The SpaceX vehicle carried two NASA astronauts: spacecraft commander Douglas “Doug” Hurley and joint operations commander Robert “Bob” Behnken. (NASA)
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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com