Science & Technology
The SpaceX Dragon Crew Missions: How They’re Changing History
By Elyas Layachi
Volume 1 Issue 2
November 24, 2020
Image provided by SpaceX
Space exploration is an ever-changing process. The dawn of space exploration really began during the Space Race, from 1955 till 1991. Occurring during the Cold War, this was a competition in which the winner wanted to land astronauts on the moon first and return them back to Earth safely. In the Space Race, the Soviet Union eventually had the upper hand when they launched the first astronaut into low-earth orbit, but the United States eventually caught up and outdid them with them being the first to land astronauts on the moon through the Apollo Moon Landings. Winning the Space Race, America gained a reputation of prestige and intellectuality. Losing the Space Race, the Soviet Union was devastated, and their reputation was damaged.
The Apollo Moon Landings were primarily politically driven, and after the Space Race, the United States did not continue sending astronauts to the moon. Instead, they constructed, along with other nations around the world, the International Space Station, a space laboratory currently in low-earth orbit where astronauts and scientists conduct experiments and perform maintenance on satellites. In 1981, the first space shuttles were launched in conjunction with the International Space Station. They helped assemble it in low-earth orbit! Known as the Space Shuttle Era, this was a period during which NASA focused solely on sending spacecraft to low-earth orbit, with no goal of sending humans back to the Moon or even Mars. Now, today, the space shuttle era is long over, and the “Artemis era” has begun. Launches are taking place over the next four years to send humans to the Moon, and for the first time, private space companies are taking part in this historical movement. Companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic are partnered with NASA through the Flight Opportunities program and are taking the next steps to send humans back to the Moon.
Flight Opportunities Program
According to NASA, the Flight Opportunities Program “facilitates rapid demonstration of promising technologies for space exploration, discovery, and the expansion of space commerce through suborbital testing with industry flight providers.” In short, the program is designed to have private industry develop technologies to be used by government agencies in future space missions, and they are given the task of conducting experiments in low-earth orbit for these agencies. Through this program, for example, SpaceX constructs rockets and delivers a payload, and now astronauts, to the International Space Station and back. With this partnership, instead of NASA focusing on sending astronauts to the International Space Station, they can now focus on sending humans to the Moon and developing spacecraft and technologies to do so. Furthermore, another example of this partnership is between NASA and Blue Origin, in which Blue Origin conducts suborbital experiments with NASA technologies and facilitates their overall development.
The private company that facilitated the development of the technology used in the Crew Dragon mission on November 15th was SpaceX. The company was founded on May 6th, 2002 by Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla, the futuristic car company. The company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft for NASA. It joined the Flight Opportunities program, along with other companies, and has flown various spacecraft for NASA, including its crew Dragon, and it is the first company to successfully construct a rocket that is completely reusable, meaning its fuel stages are reusable, along with the capsule. Furthermore, the rockets can land themselves after detachment, which is quite remarkable, considering that such a concept is almost futuristic. The company now has the task of launching astronauts to the International Space Station, and this is the first time a private company has launched astronauts into space for a government agency.
SpaceX Dragon Crew launches to the ISS
On November 15th, 2020, the first mission to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon took place. The spacecraft represented a new era of space exploration, with an advanced interface and futuristic look and feel. This mission was known as the Crew-1 mission, since the astronauts were going to the International Space Station for a long duration of time rather than for a stop. They will conduct many microgravity experiments, including growing radishes in space and looking at astronauts’ brains! The launch proved successful, and the landing module was able to dock with the International Space Station successfully. The astronauts aboard, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover (the first African American astronaut in space for an extended-stay mission), Mike Hopkins, and Soichi Noguchi make up the Crew-1 mission. This mission is historic since it is the first one solely fueled by the innovations of private companies under the influence of NASA, a governmental space agency.