The pitch-black shores of Kennedy Space Center lay quiet in the early morning. In the middle of the swamps and trees stood a 70-meter white rocket that was mounted on the historic launch pad 39A. At the top of rocket was a space capsule that appeared like no other before. Inside, a stuffed toy of planet Earth and a manikin dressed in a white 3D printed space suit sat quietly in the black metallic seats. Bright words shone on the manikin’s helmet, a reflection from a tablet like control console. The clock was ticking. History was about to be made.
On March 2nd, 2019, 3:30 AM, Spacex Crew Dragon lifted off into the dark Florida sky on top of a Block 5 Falcon 9. This historic launched marked the first time a commercial company launched a spacecraft that would dock with the International Space Station. America now could deliver its own astronauts.
After the last shuttle launch in 2010, NASA heavily relied on the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, to shuttle American astronauts to the International Space Station. Although NASA would still have a way of getting its astronauts to space, depending on the Russians for the long term would not be feasible. First, the Russians charged a hefty price – 80 million dollars per seat. Second, counting on a potential foreign adversary could lead to the Russians refusing to ferry Americans. NASA was faced with the dilemma. In theory, NASA could use the space shuttle, but the fleet was retired due to soaring costs. Additionally, NASA didn’t have any additional spacecraft specifically designed to shuttle humans. After years of having no solution, the answer from a remote island in the middle of the Pacific: SpaceX (1).
At the time, Space was testing their rockets at the Kwajalein Atoll. Two of their rockets already blew up and a third was ready to launch. Things were looking abysmal. Their CEO, former Paypal CEO Elon Musk, knew that if their last rocket didn’t take off, the company would have to shut down due to insufficient funding. On March 28, 2008, their third rocket took off without a hitch. Success was short-lived however. Musk still needed funding for SpaceX. Luckily, NASA decided to contract SpaceX to launch cargo to the international space station – a deal worth 3.1 billion dollars.
Musk and his team got to work, testing numerous iteration’s of Falcon 9. Additionally, to meet NASA’s delivery requirements, SpaceX developed its Dragon spacecraft to ferry supplies to the ISS. Out of the 17 launches to date, only 1 failed. From this accumulation of missions, the Crew Resupply Mission was born. SpaceX had assert itself in the commercial rocket program (2).
NASA was also keeping a close eye. After, seeing SpaceX’s numerous success’s, NASA asked SpaceX to develop a crewed version of Dragon, one that could ferry astronauts to the ISS. Crew Dragon was born (3).
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