Crew-1 On Its Way to ISS

Crew-1 On Its Way to ISS

SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission lifted off from Kennedy Space Center on time at 7:27 pm ET Sunday carrying four astronauts for NASA to the International Space Station (ISS).  If all goes as planned, they will arrive this evening, November 16, about 11:00 pm ET to begin a 6-month stay. A problem with propellant heaters on the spacecraft shortly after launch was resolved in a few hours and all is well currently.

Crew-1 is the first operational launch of SpaceX’s crew space transportation system, which was developed as a Public-Private Partnership with NASA where both paid for the development costs.  SpaceX owns the spacecraft and rocket. NASA simply purchases services, but SpaceX must meet NASA’s safety requirements.

SpaceX completed NASA’s certification process earlier this week after a number of tests including two orbital test flights, the uncrewed Demo-1 in 2019 and the crewed Demo-2 earlier this year. The flight also is licensed by the FAA, which regulates, promotes and facilitates the commercial space launch and reentry business. FAA Administrator Steve Dickson, who was at the launch, explained that FAA’s responsibility is to protect the public, property, and national security.

Aboard Crew Dragon are three NASA astronauts and one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA):

  • Michael Hopkins, commander (NASA)
  • Victor Glover, pilot (NASA)
  • Soichi Noguchi, Mission Specialist-1 (JAXA)
  • Shannon Walker, Mission Specialist-2 (NASA)
The four Crew-1 crew members depart the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout building to get into Tesla cars for the 20-minute ride to Launch Complex 39-A and the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft, November 15, 2020.  L-R: Walker, Glover, Hopkins, Noguchi. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)


Launch of Crew-1, the first operational mission for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, November 15, 2020, with four astronauts enroute to the International Space Station. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

NASA, JAXA, FAA and SpaceX officials were ebullient during a post-launch press conference Sunday evening, but stressed that the mission is far from over.  Docking is scheduled for about 11:00 pm ET Monday and the crew will spend the next 6 months on ISS conducting scientific experiments and other activities until they return to Earth and splash down in the ocean near Florida.

Post-launch press conference (L-R): Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator; Kathy Lueders, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations; Hiroshi Sasaki, Vice President and Director General, JAXA Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate; Steve Dickson, FAA Administrator; Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO. November 15, 2020. Screengrab.

Indeed, shortly after launch, NASA tweeted that engineers were troubleshooting an issue with propellant heaters on the spacecraft.

A few hours later, however, the problem was resolved.

At the post-launch press conference, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell heralded the launch as the “beginning of a new era in  spaceflight.”

NASA wants to be just one of many customers of this “commercial crew” system and its Boeing counterpart, Starliner, which is still in testing.

SpaceX already has a deal with Axiom Space to launch four private astronauts to the ISS next year and Shotwell hinted there are other “fun” missions to come.

NASA was not able to launch astronauts to the ISS after the space shuttle program was terminated in 2011 until the Demo-2 test flight lifted off on May 30. It has been paying Russia to ferry astronauts back and forth in Soyuz spacecraft. Now it will pay SpaceX and Boeing.

NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, are negotiating plans to continue launching U.S. astronauts on Soyuz, and Russian cosmonauts on the SpaceX and Boeing commercial vehicles, to ensure cross-training. The ISS is composed of a Russian segment and a U.S. segment and both sides agree at least one Russian and one American need to be aboard at all times to operate the systems. These “crew exchange” flights would not require either side to pay the other, however.

No agreement has been signed yet, but NASA ISS Program Manager Joel Montalbano said on Friday that the agency hopes to have it in place to allow such flights beginning in late 2021.

Shotwell represented SpaceX at today’s launch because SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has what he describes as a mild case of COVID.  NASA does not allow anyone who has tested positive for COVID onto Kennedy Space Center.

Asked if he was “wired into” the launch nonetheless, Shotwell said yes and she has the texts to prove it.

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the White House National Space Council, attended the launch and issued several tweets from his @Mike_Pence Twitter feed rather than his usual @VP account.

President Trump also tweeted that it was “great launch,” but incorrectly asserted that NASA was “a closed up disaster” when he became President. NASA was never closed as this commercial crew program illustrates. It began in 2010 under the Obama Administration and today’s launch was the culmination of a decade of effort by NASA and SpaceX.

Joe Biden, who was Vice President under Obama and has been declared President-elect by all the major news organizations, issued a congratulatory text.

This article was updated several times on Sunday and Monday.

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