SpaceX launches Crew Dragon

Opening up a new frontier for commercial spacecraft.

Cody Winkelman, Co-Sports Editor

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According to NASA, their Commercial Crew Program (CCP) began in 2010 with the objective of providing “safe, reliable, cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit” as well as “create[ing] a market environment in which commercial space transportation services are available to Government and private sector customers.”

Shortly after the CCP began, NASA launched its last astronauts from American soil in an Atlantis Shuttle on July 8th, 2011. Since then, American astronauts have been provided access to the International Space Station (ISS) from Russian rockets and spacecraft launched in Kazakhstan. Over the past 8 years, this process has proved to be very expensive and politically difficult, according to newscientist.com.

This gave the CCP a new purpose along with its previous objectives: to return spaceflight to America. NASA began this process by partnering with Boeing and SpaceX in 2014. SpaceX has been one of the leading commercial aerospace companies in recent years (along with Boeing) and has been working closely with NASA to provide rockets and spacecraft to fly humans and cargo into low-earth orbit and the ISS.

Recently, a demo flight was launched for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon space shuttle. NASA has previously used a Dragon model to supply cargo to the ISS. But Crew Dragon isn’t meant for cargo. According to SpaceX, “the Dragon spacecraft is capable of carrying up to 7 passengers to and from Earth orbit, and beyond. The pressurized section of the capsule is designed to carry both people and environmentally sensitive cargo.”

During its test flight to the ISS on March 2nd, Crew Dragon was launched from a reusable Falcon 9 rocket and became the first spacecraft to autonomously dock with the ISS (previously there would have to be an astronaut in the station to reach out and grab the shuttle with a mechanical arm in order to dock). Crew Dragon splashed down safely off the east coast on March 8th.

NASA plans on launching a manned flight using Crew Dragon later this year, hopefully.