SpaceX on Saturday in Florida became the first private company to launch astronauts into space, a historic achievement that offers the United States a new mode of space transportation, after nine years of delay.
A small, hot point disappearing into the sky, the rocket propelled astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley for ten minutes 200 km above the oceans, hitting 20 times the speed of sound towards the International Space Station (ISS) where they will automatically dock on Sunday at 10:29 am (Quebec time) if all goes well.
Their hypersonic ascent was broadcast live via cameras inside their Crew Dragon capsule, and once safely in orbit, the two best friends gave a guided tour, making somersaults at zero gravity, above the Earth -New. They named their ship Endeavor, a nod to the shuttle on which everyone traveled in the late 2000s.
The weather change did not cause a second postponement, while the risk of lightning postponed the departure from Wednesday to Saturday.
The rocket produced by SpaceX near Los Angeles flew safely, in a completely blue sky, at 3:22 pm from the Kennedy Space Center, under the eyes of thousands of people installed next to beaches of the area, and by Donald Trump, who came to personally witness what NASA calls the dawn of a new era in space.
“Former leaders have put the United States at the mercy of foreign countries to send our astronauts into orbit. It’s over,” he said in an allusion that since space shuttles ended in 2011, Russia’s rockets have been sending of the Americans on the ISS.
“Today’s launch shows that the future belongs to the private space industry,” he said, after giving a round of applause to Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX in 2002.
New business model
“I was overwhelmed with emotion,” the boss said at a press conference later. “I find it hard to speak, we have been working on this goal for 18 years. I find it hard to believe that happened”.
The mission may seem like a modest step in space exploration: “Bob” and “Doug” will not go to the Moon or to Mars, only to the old galaxy station, 400 km from Earth, where the Russians and Americans and others have come and gone since 1998.
NASA, however, sees this as a “revolution”, as SpaceX will give the United States access to space at a lower cost, cheaper than its previous programs. For three billion granted since 2011, SpaceX has fully developed a new space taxi and promised its client a six round trip to the ISS.
In doing so, it defeated giant Boeing, whose Starliner capsule missed an empty test flight last year.
In addition to the company’s emerging mythology, the launch is from step 39A where the Apollo moon exploration mission began in the 1960s and 1970s, which was reused by SpaceX.
“Elon Musk has brought to the American space program the insight and inspiration we’ve been lacking for nine years, since the space shuttles were finished. He’s brilliant,” NASA boss Jim Bridenstine praised Friday.
To the two young sons of the astronauts, Elon Musk promised: “We have done everything we can to bring your fathers back.»
Apollo, 21st century version
Trust needs to be gained. Elon Musk knew nothing about rockets when he founded SpaceX in 2002. Its first three launches failed. One rocket exploded on the ground with an important satellite at its fairing, another after launch with supplies for the ISS. Last year, the Dragon capsule itself exploded during testing of ground machines. The program should have started in 2017.
Eventually, NASA officials gave the green light to entrust SpaceX to two of its astronauts. They talk about this partnership with much praise: the head of manned commercial flights spoke about the “miracles” that the collaboration of the two teams has accomplished.
Saturday, in the mythical ignition room of the Kennedy Center, not a single NASA person gave the ultimate “go” for the liftoff, but SpaceX launching director Michael Taylor, U.S. space agency officials had no formal role in countdown. .
Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but in the 21st century. Touch screens have replaced buttons and joysticks. The interior is dominated by white, the lighting is more subtle. A single “umbilical” cord connects the suits to the chairs to provide fresh air and communication for the two men, who are wearing a tight spacesuit, designed with the help of a Hollywood costume designer.
Unlike the shuttles, which were one of those that exploded in 1986 after takeoff (Challenger), the Dragon can eject in an emergency if the rocket has a problem.
If it is certified safe after its space mission, which could last until August, Americans will no longer rely on the Russians to access space: since 2011, the Soyuz has been the only space taxi available.
Routes from Florida, with four astronauts on board, will be regular again. SpaceX also aims to fly private passengers into orbit, or even the ISS, perhaps next year.