Resilience is on the way to the International Space Station. At exactly 7:27 p.m. ET, a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster burst to life at Launch Complex 39A, its engines lighting up the Florida coast. The picture-perfect launch of the gumdrop-shaped Crew Dragon spacecraft — given the nickname Resilience — marks .
“By working together through these difficult times, you’ve inspired the nation, the world, and in no small part, the name of this incredible vehicle, Resilience,” said Michael Hopkins, spacecraft commander of Crew-1 prior to launch.
Resilience is a theme of the launch. Not since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 has NASA sent humans to orbit from American soil in an operational mission. The launch for this particular mission has been delayed, pushed back and postponed multiple times — the original timeline included a launch date of November 2016. Four years , Resilience is in flight.
The Crew Dragon contains an international assembly of astronauts: Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker of NASA, plus Soichi Noguchi of Japanese space agency JAXA. The team is expected to spend the next six months on the International Space Station.
“This is a great day for the United States of America and a great day for Japan,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, at a post-launch conference. “The big milestone here is that we are now moving away from development and tests and into operational flights.”
“I am looking forward to enjoy the new era and going together for the future,” said Hiroshi Sasaki, Vice President at JAXA.
Just under 10 minutes after launch, the first stage Falcon 9 booster landed safely on the Just Read The Instructions droneship stationed in the Atlantic. It was the first time the reusable rocket was utilized in a mission and the plan is for it to be reused on the next operational flight of the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, Crew-2.
The launch of Crew-2 is slated to occur in March, 2021 and will again carry four astronauts. It will reuse the Crew Dragon Endeavour, which was first used in the SpaceX Demo-2 mission in May.
Shortly after, at around 12 minutes, Resilience separated from the second stage and headed on its way. The spacecraft will now chase down the ISS and dock with the station on Nov. 16 around 11 p.m. ET.
It’s not the first time a Falcon 9 rocket has delivered a Crew Dragon spacecraft to space. In May, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were. But that was a test mission, the final box to be ticked before operations officially begin for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Crew-1 signals the return of operational flights to US soil and the first flight in the CCP. Until today, NASA was purchasing flights on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Flying SpaceX, NASA will save around $25 million per seat.
NASA has also contracted Boeing to deliver astronauts to the ISS, butduring its first uncrewed demonstration launch.