NASA and SpaceX made history on May 30, 2020, by launching American astronauts into space from American soil on an American-built rocket for the first time since 2011. Space Shuttle veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley had the privilege of being the two astronauts on this historic flight dubbed “Launch America.” After saying goodbye to their families, they rode to the launch pad in a white Tesla. They even got to wear stylish new outfits designed by SpaceX, rather than the bulky spacesuits astronauts are used to wearing.
The mission’s first launch attempt on Wednesday, May 27 had to be scrubbed due to weather conditions. Their next attempt was a success on Saturday, May 30. The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Bob and Doug on top of a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The two-man crew had a 19-hour journey to the International Space Station (ISS), arriving on Sunday, May 31.
The Demo-2 mission was the final test of SpaceX’s human spaceflight system for operational crew missions to and from the ISS. SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft had already made multiple unmanned cargo trips to the space station. The Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped capsule built for spaceflights into and out of low-Earth orbit. It was initially designed as an unmanned spacecraft, but it was scaled up to launch astronauts into space as well. The Crew Dragon can hold as many as seven astronauts at a time. The goal is for NASA to ease its reliance on the Russian Space Agency, which had been the only route for crews to reach the ISS since the retirement of the Space Shuttles. NASA has had to pay Russia billions of dollars for seats in the Soyuz capsule.
About Launch America
The SpaceX Demo-2 test flight was part of the Launch America initiative of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a public-private partnership between the United States government and private space companies like SpaceX. The first mission under the Launch America banner was also the world’s first launch of astronauts by a wholly commercial provider, the first US astronaut space launch in nearly a decade, and the first SpaceX crewed space launch. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were both in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to witness the historic launch. President Trump became the third sitting U.S. President to watch an American launch live from the Kennedy Space Center. NASA’s Commercial Crew / Launch America program is a turning point for America’s future in space exploration that lays the groundwork for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., trading as SpaceX, is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has flown 20 resupply missions to the ISS under a partnership with NASA. SpaceX’s achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008), the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010), the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012), the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the Sun (Falcon Heavy’s payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018), and the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station (Dragon 2 in 2020).
What’s Next For NASA?
In 2020, NASA will be taking long strides toward returning astronauts to the Moon, continuing the exploration of Mars, and developing new technology to make supersonic aircraft fly more quietly. The Obama administration had gutted NASA’s space funding and essentially relegated them to climate change research. That’s why NASA depended on a private company like SpaceX to develop a human-rated spacecraft that could be used to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth. After the historic launch restoring America’s status as a leader in space travel, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said the following:
This has been a long time coming. It’s been way too long… I want to give a lot of credit to Charlie Bolden, he was my predecessor as the NASA administrator. He fought hard for this program at a time when it didn’t get any support in Congress. We now have an administration that is fully supportive of our space flight initiatives… our budgets are going up, things are strong, and today was just an amazing day.
One of the things [Donald Trump] did right out of the gate when he became President is he created what’s called the National Space Council, and he put the Vice President as chairman of the National Space Council. And on that National Space Council you’ve got the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of commerce, the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Education, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all of these different amazing individuals that deal with space day in and day out. A lot of people don’t realize how many parts of the federal government deal with space. And the Vice President invited those members of the National Space Council here as well. And then we had members of Congress, bipartisan members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats who have been involved in supporting this program.
[Trump] is the only President to have watched American astronauts on a brand new rocket that has never been launched before, and that’s a big risk. He also said that we’d be back on the moon again by 2024 and he’s putting himself at risk to say ‘I’m going to be accountable for the initiatives that I put forward.’ We have not had that kind of leadership for space in a very, very long time, and we’re so grateful for it.
This is everything America has to offer in its purest form, and times are tough right now. We’ve got the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve got other challenges as a country. But I hope this moment in time is an opportunity for everyone to reflect on humanity and what we can do when we work together, when we strive, and when we achieve. And if this can inspire a young child to become the next Elon Musk… then that’s what this is all about.
Yes, isn’t it amazing what can be accomplished when we all come together! American astronauts and American rockets on American soil show that Americans can get a lot more done when they cooperate as a team, than when there is strife and division. That’s an important lesson for everyone at this time in history. If you missed the live launch, you can watch it here (skip ahead to the 4-hour mark if you want):