Kudos Galore as Crew Dragon Endeavour Begins Test Flight

Kudos Galore as Crew Dragon Endeavour Begins Test Flight

Kudos to NASA and SpaceX rang out from many directions today as the Demo-2 test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon began its mission following a successful launch at 3:22 pm ET.  Among those showering praise were President Trump and Vice President Pence, but the sentiments seemed most palpable between the two partners who made it all happen — NASA and SpaceX themselves.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken got straight to work after reaching orbit about 12 minutes after launch. Although Crew Dragon can operate entirely autonomously, one of their first tasks was to demonstrate manual control of the spacecraft just in case it ever was required.  They will do another manual test tomorrow before the spacecraft docks itself to the International Space Station at 10:29 am ET.

The two veteran astronauts then gave a tour and revealed the name they chose for their spacecraft — Endeavour.  Hurley explained it not only reflected the “incredible endeavor” it took over the past nine years to get Crew Dragon into space, but the fact that both of them made their first spaceflights aboard the space shuttle Endeavour and they wanted to “carry on that name.”

Space Shuttle Endeavour was named after Captain James Cook’s ship HMS Endeavour following a national competition of children in elementary and secondary schools who were asked to pick a name based on an exploratory sea vessel from history.

SpaceX Founder and Chief Engineer Elon Musk later tweeted it is now “Dragonship Endeavour.”

In a series of press conferences over the past several days, officials from NASA and SpaceX including NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Kathy Lueders, and Musk have praised the partnership that led to today’s launch.  While stressing this is a test flight that has only just begun and they will not cheer success until “Bob and Doug” are back home, they left no doubt they consider this a watershed event in how the government and private sector will work together as space exploration proceeds.

Crew Dragon is part of the commercial crew program, a public-private partnership where the government and the private sector paid for development of new crew space transportation systems under fixed price contracts instead of traditional cost-plus arrangements.  The companies, SpaceX and Boeing, own the vehicles while NASA guaranteed to purchase a certain amount of services.  The goal is that NASA will be just one of many customers and the companies will close their business cases by selling services to others, resulting in lower costs to the taxpayers.

Bridenstine conceded there had been some tension with SpaceX in the past over “priorities,” but since he chided Musk in a tweet last October that it was “time to deliver,” that is just what Musk has done.  At a press conference today, Bridenstine was effusive:  “Since that day, Elon Musk and SpaceX have delivered on everything NASA has asked them to deliver on and at a speed that we never would have guessed.”

Elon Musk literally jumps with joy after the successful launch of Demo-2, May 30, 2020. Tweet by Gen. Jay Raymond @SpaceForceCSO

Musk was similarly complimentary: “We would not have achieved this level of safety without the tremendous support from NASA and your team.  NASA made us way better than we would have been and obviously we could not have got started without NASA.  Thank you very much for your support.”

Many Members of Congress and a number of industry associations issued congratulatory statements today, but President Trump and Vice President Pence were at Kennedy Space Center in person to witness the launch and offer their own remarks.

In addition to praising NASA and the Demo-2 crew, Pence, who chairs the White House National Space Council, urged the audience at KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to give Musk and the SpaceX team a “vigorous round of applause”

… today we begin a new era of human space exploration.  And the credit goes to dedicated men and women all across this country, to the ingenuity and the hard work of the entire NASA team.  America is proud of the men and women of NASA.

But for the first time in our history, our astronauts have taken to the skies on a commercial rocket built by America’s private sector. So join me in a vigorous round of applause for Elon Musk and the dedicated men and women of SpaceX.  Job well done. That’s great.  Well deserved.  Thanks, Elon.

And of course, none of this would have been possible without the personal courage and the unflinching skill of two American astronauts. … So would you join me in giving a vigorous round of applause to Commander Bob Behnken and Commander Doug Hurley?  We are proud of our American astronauts. — Vice President Pence

Trump was just as pleased.

I especially want to congratulate someone who truly embodies the American ethos of big thinking and risk-taking.  After achieving success as an Internet entrepreneur, he could have spent his fortune doing anything, including yachting, lots of things.  He could do lots of things.  But in 2002, he began pouring tens of millions of dollars of his own money into research and development for a new rocket.  He’s a little different than a lot of other people.  He likes rockets.  He assembled a crew of some of the greatest minds and talent in American aerospace.

In the years since, SpaceX has become the first private company to develop and successfully launch its own rocket into orbit, the first to launch and recover its own capsule, and of course, moments ago, Space X became the first private company to put humans into orbit around the Earth.

Elon Musk, congratulations.  Congratulations, Elon. …

Today, the groundbreaking partnership between NASA and SpaceX has given our nation the gift of an unmatched power: a state-of-the art spaceship to put our astronauts into orbit at a fraction of the cost of the Space Shuttle.  And it’s much better.  …

Today’s launch makes clear the commercial space industry is the future.  The modern world was built by risk-takers and renegades, fierce competitors, skilled craftsmen, captains of industry who pursued opportunities no one else saw and envisioned what no one else could ever think of seeing.  The United States will harness the unrivaled creativity and speed of our private sector to stride ever further into the unknown.

This launch also marks an exciting turning point for NASA.  This agency will now focus its unmatched expertise … and power and integrity to do what NASA does better than anyone else … — embark on the most difficult, most daring, most audacious missions in the history of humankind …

The United States has regained our place of prestige as the world leader.  As has often been stated, you can’t be number one on Earth if you are number two in space.  And we are not going to be number two anywhere.

… Through NASA’s Artemis program, the United States is preparing for a crewed mission to Mars. …  By 2024, our astronauts will return to the lunar surface to establish a permanent presence and the launching pad to Mars. And the first woman on the moon will be an American woman.  And the first nation to land on Mars will be the United States of America….

In the years ahead, America will go bigger, bolder, further, faster, and America will go first.  America will always be first. — President Trump

Demo-2 is a test flight of a spacecraft to take people to Earth orbit, but for Musk it is just one step toward his ultimate goal when he founded SpaceX in 2002 — making humanity a multiplanet species. Conceding that he was struggling to compose cohesive sentences because of the emotion of the day, he expounded on that much bigger picture.

I think this is hopefully the first step on a journey towards a civilization on Mars and life becoming multiplanetary, based on the Moon and expanding beyond Earth … for the first time in the 4.5 billion history of the Earth.   This is hopefully the first step on that journey. It will require a tremendous amount of innovation and technology development to make going to orbit, and ultimately beyond orbit a routine matter where thousands and perhaps ultimately millions of people can travel to other planets.

That’s what we really need to achieve over time. That’s a radical goal, but that’s increasingly real with what happened today.  Getting people to orbit finally after 18 years.  If we are able to increase the rate of innovation then life can become multiplanetary.  This is the goal we should strive for. …

Human spaceflight was always the … fundamental goal of SpaceX.  … I can’t emphasize this enough.  This is the thing that we need to do.  We must make life sustainably multiplanetary.  It’s not one planet to the exclusion of another but to extend life beyond Earth. We are life’s agent in this regard. All the creatures and plants that exist here on Earth, we can bring them to other planets and it’s very important that we do so as soon as possible … while the window of opportunity is open.

I call upon the public to support this goal and to think about this goal and think about how important it is and how fundamental it is to the future.  We’ve got to get it done. — Elon Musk

That is a tall order at this moment in history, though.  Today’s invigorating space launch took place against the backdrop of the COVID-19 global pandemic and demonstrations in cities across America following the brutal killing of a black man, George Floyd, by four police officers in Minneapolis, MN.  All four were fired and one has been charged with third degree murder.  Trump, in fact, spent the first half of his remarks on Floyd’s death — “a grave tragedy” — but blamed the protests on “Antifa and other radical left-wing groups.”

Trump also used his time to tout his spending of $2.5 trillion on the military buildup, creating the U.S. Space Force, and foreshadowing the future:  “We have created the envy of the world and will soon be landing on Mars, and will soon have the greatest weapons ever imagined in history.  I’ve already seen designs.  And even I can’t believe it.”


This article has been updated.

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