SpaceX's Crew Dragon space capsule is launching on Wednesday afternoon, and anyone can watch the historic moment for free online. The official NASA YouTube channel is hosting a livestream of the launch, beginning hours beforehand with the preparation and build-up before the big moment. If all goes as planned, people will remember where they were for this moment for years to come.
Wednesday's launch is sending SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral, Florida to the International Space Station. It is the first time NASA astronauts will travel into space on a privately-built spacecraft, and the first time NASA has launched a manned mission since 2011. If all goes well, it could reinvigorate the American space program in a huge way, potentially leading to a new boom in science and exploration. Accordingly, the launch has become a huge event, with public officials, scientists and speakers gathered at the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA's domestic Space Shuttle Program came to a close in 2011, according to a report by CNN. Rather than renew it, the agency focused its efforts on looking deeper into the solar system. However, in 2014, it made the decision to hire private companies in the U.S. to design the next American space shuttle, with the hope that it would be cheaper and would drive innovation.
At the time, NASA awarded a $2.6 billion contract to SpaceX — the fledgling company of eccentric billionaire Elon Musk. Another, bigger contract went to Boeing — though the company has had several economic setbacks in recent years, and it has fallen behind on its "Starliner" project.
In any case, Musk's involvement adds a sense of wonder to the project for many of his followers. Musk has long expressed that SpaceX is a passion project for him, not a money-maker. He believes that space travel and, ultimately, space colonization is vital to the future of humankind. This has captured the imaginations of people around the world and led many to praise Musk's efforts.
The Crew Dragon launch is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. ET precisely on Wednesday afternoon — calculated down to the moment to get the shuttle's trajectory just right. if it misses the mark, the earth's rotation could throw the shuttle off course and cause it to miss the International Space Station altogether. Weather delays may also threaten the mission, but either way, the vent is in full swing and streaming live on the NASA YouTube channel.