The SpaceX launch on Saturday was a success, which was a welcome change after it had to be rescheduled after unfavorable weather conditions on Wednesday. Postponed or not, the event was the first step in sending a crew of astronauts aboard the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station.
While there were doubts shortly before launch about weather issues and another potential delay, but the launch itself went off without any problems. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were on hand for the rescheduled launch, appearing in front of television cameras shortly before the launch. The launch was verified with thirty-seconds to go, leading to the moment. Shortly after the emotional liftoff, the Dragon rocket continued to power up and move past stage one. Shortly after the launch, the rocket booster returned to the launch pad and the astronauts aboard prepared to separate the capsule away from the second stage rocket.
Saturday also marked a historic event, as the first time that the Crew Dragon craft launched as part of its first crewed mission, which will dock at the ISS. The Crew Dragon has docked on the ISS in the past, but always with crew on board. The launch took place at 3:22 p.m. ET at the Kennedy Space Center from the very same launchpad NASA used to send Apollo astronauts to the moon. The crew aboard the SpaceX craft were astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken.
Both Hurley and Behnken started their careers as military test pilots and have logged thousands of hours piloting supersonic jets. NASA selected the pair back in 2018. The Crew Dragon is also quite different from the typical Space Shuttle, which is a smaller vessel that launches on top of a rocket. Instead, the new SpaceX vehicle more closely resembles Russia's Soyuz capsule.
It's also the first human-crewed mission in nine years since the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched back in 2011. The following year, the Atlantis was put on display in the Kennedy Space Center Visitors' Complex. The launch is also the first step in NASA's new phase, which involves ending their reliance on Russian spacecraft to send American astronauts to ISS. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called it the beginning of "a new generation, a new era in human spaceflight." He added that "NASA has long had this idea that we need to build, own, and operate hardware to get to space."
Wednesday's delay wasn't the only setback SpaceX faced this week. On Friday, an unmanned test launch at a facility in Texas ended up exploding before an engine test. While the project wasn't related to the Crew Dragon launch, it nonetheless sparked a few reactions online.