The SpaceX launch escape demonstration on Sunday tested the Dragon’s safety measures while simultaneously sacrificing a Falcon 9 rocket. The launch places SpaceX one step closer to sending NASA astronauts into orbit from American soil for the first time since 2011.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “This critical flight test puts us on the cusp of returning the capability to launch astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil.
“We are thrilled with the progress NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is making and look forward to the next milestone for Crew Dragon.”
On Sunday, January 19, the California-based rocket manufacturer fired an unmanned Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket into orbit.
The primary goal of the launch was to test the Dragon’s ability to safely escape from the Falcon in the event of an emergency.
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Just 90 seconds into its flight, the Dragon capsule fired its engines and flew to its highest orbital point before returning to Earth.
At the same time, the Falcon 9 that carried the Dragon into space, was left to spectacularly disintegrate in the atmosphere.
Around 3.38pm GMT (10.38am EST), just eight minutes after launching, the Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said: “As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture-perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect.
“This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”
Earlier on Sunday, the South African billionaire described the escape demonstration as a “risky mission” that is “pushing the envelope in so many ways”.
Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great
Elon Musk, SpaceX Chief Engineer
Mr Musk also tweeted: “Thanks on behalf of the @SpaceX team! Thank you also for the support @NASA has provided over the years, without which this would not have happened.”
Before the SpaceX Dragon can ferry US astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX has to complete a long list of safety checks set out by NASA.
But the first two astronauts who will pilot the Dragon into orbit have already been selected and named.
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Astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert “Bob” Behnken will fly the Dragon as early as spring 2020.
At a post-launch press conference, Mr Musk said it is “probable” the Dragon’s first manned flight will take place in the second quarter of the year.
Mr Hurley said: “The past few days have been an incredible experience for us.
“We started with a full dress rehearsal of what Bob and I will do for our mission.
“Today, we watched the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use but can save lives if we ever do.
“It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point, and we can’t wait to take a ride to the space station soon.”
On January 17 Mr Hurley and Mr Behnken performed a dress rehearsal in SpaceX’s sleek spacesuits.
Mr Behnken tweeted on Sunday: “Exciting weekend! Had fun dry-running @SpaceX Crew Drago pre-launch activities—w/space suits and modern transport.
“Saw first hand demon of Dragon’s launch escape system. Two very different types of excitement (check our faces)!
“Super proud of what the team has accomplished.”
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