28 October 2020

Posting the latest science and tech news

The New Era of Space Travel: SpaceX Crew Dragon

Revolutionising space travel, on the 31st of May 2020, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station.

Revolutionising space travel, on the 31st of May 2020, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft carried two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, to the ISS in space. The astronauts will stay with the existing crew on-board the ISS for up to 4 months.

This is a very important launch for both NASA and SpaceX. Since NASA retired their space shuttle back in 2011, they have been paying Russia to help them launch astronauts and supplies to the ISS with the help of the Soyuz rockets. This marks the first manned launch from US soil in nine years. And for SpaceX, it is the first time the company has launched human astronauts into space orbit.

The New Era

The two images shows the cockpits of NASA’s Endeavour Space Shuttle (left) and SpaceX’s Dragon V2 Space Shuttle (right).

Autonomy and AI have come very far, with about all of SpaceX’s vehicles being completely autonomous, with the human intervention being only a “last-straw” failover. With the success rate of over 95%, the autonomous solution is near perfect. This allows for transporting non-pilots in the future to space, possibly even allowing space travel to the greater community.

SpaceX’s revolutionary reusable rocket parts are not only just a cost-reducing aspect, but it is also very environmentally friendly. With used rocket parts landing back on Earth to be reused instead of crashing upon detachment.

Aims of This Mission

SpaceX Dragon Mission Plan
SpaceX Dragon Mission Plan

After NASA’s fatal Columbia disaster, where the space shuttle carrying astronauts disintegrated upon re-entry into the Earth atmosphere back in 2003, NASA shifted their focus on developing a replacement spaceship that could travel to the Moon. It was crucial that NASA should involve a private firm to transfer crew and cargo to and from the ISS.

Declared in 2014, the winners of this new contract from NASA were Boeing, an aerospace company who develops and build aircrafts, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The Astronauts

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside the Crew Dragon capsule | Credits: SpaceX / CC0

Bob Behnken, who is on the left in the image above, is a NASA astronaut and former Chief of the Astronaut Office, who holds a PhD in mechanical engineering and the rank of Colonel in the US Air Force. Doug Hurley, who is on the right in the image above, is also a NASA astronaut, who is an engineer and a Colonel ranked Marine Corps pilot. He has piloted many space shuttle missions.

Designed by Hollywood costume designer Jose Fernandez, the spacesuits features not only an incredibly stylish, modernistic and superhero-suit styling but also provides superior protection. 3D printed helmets, touchscreen-compatible gloves, flame resistant outer layer and hearing protection.

What’s Next?

SpaceX is due to proceed with 6 operational missions to the ISS as part of their $2.6bn contract with NASA. Boeing holds a similar contract too. They are due to transport crew to the ISS using their new CST-100 Starliner vehicle.

This launch is a huge step for space travel and a giant leap for SpaceX. It is the first in a long time that humans are taken to space from US soil. The great advancements in technology not only increases the safety of the passengers but also reduces the environmental impact and the costs of space travel. For example, reusing detached rocket parts such as boosters and fairings, instead of destroying them upon detachment.

It is the first time SpaceX have launched a human crew to space. And with the success of this mission, they can start to reuse aspects to help them with other missions, missions which can help them achieve their goals, to enable privatised space travel and to one day, colonise Mars.

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