And that is the first commercial manned flight to the International Space Station!

“Welcome home, Bob and Doug!” These are the words of NASA boss Jim Bridestine. Last weekend, the two astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley returned to Earth from the ISS. And with their splash in the water, the first commercial mission to the ISS was declared a success.

Mission History was made
on May 30, 2020 when the two NASA astronauts traveled to the ISS from a U.S. base in a commercially built and operated U.S. crew spacecraft . SpaceX ‘Crew Dragon departed from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and docked at the space station a day later . It was a historic moment. Because for the first time in almost a decade, American astronauts were relaunched from American soil. In addition, it was the first manned flight for SpaceX ‘Crew Dragon.

Behnken and Hurley stayed on the ISS for a total of 62 days, completing some 1024 laps around the Earth. During their stay, they took part in a number of scientific experiments. They also contributed to research by Crew Earth Observations (CEO). Images from CEO help accurately map changes on our globe. Think of man-made changes – such as urban growth and building construction – to natural dynamic events, including hurricanes, floods, and volcanic eruptions.

Both gentlemen also took a few spacewalks. Behnken stepped outside the walls of the ISS four times to tinker with the space station. Behnken has now made a total of ten spacewalks and spent 61 hours and ten minutes as a spacewalker. And that’s quite a lot. For example, he and three other Americans are now the record holders of most spacewalks by an American astronaut. Moreover, he spent the fourth most time as a spacewalker.

Last weekend, the mission was over and the two astronauts returned to Earth. Crew Dragon first disconnected independently from the ISS and then headed for Earth with enormous speed. Hanging from parachutes, the vessel then fell into the water in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. Ships were deployed to fish the capsule and return both Crew Dragon and crew to the mainland.

The Crew Dragon with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley dangling from a rope are angled inside and dropped off safely on board the ship the ‘Go Navigator’. 
Image: NASA Television

Good luck
With the splash in the water, the final test flight of the Crew Dragon is completed. SpaceX immediately declared the mission a success. And with this, a new era in human space travel has begun. Space and the International Space Station are no longer the domain of government-funded space agencies. Commercial companies also demand their place in space. However, we still have to wait for the last inspections. But once all papers are completed, SpaceX will be the first space company to commute between Earth and the ISS to deliver and collect supplies and astronauts there. “Congratulations to NASA and SpaceX teams for the incredible work they have done to make this test flight possible,” said proud Bridestine. â€śIt is proof of what we can achieve when we work together. That is very important in taking the next steps towards bold missions to the Moon and Mars. ”

To the moon and Mars

That a governmental organization such as NASA applauds the ambitions of space companies may seem a bit strange. But by partnering with commercial parties and outsourcing certain tasks, NASA can focus on other things. Namely: deep space. NASA plans to relocate humans to the moon in the near future – sometime in 2024 – and to build manned missions to Mars with the knowledge and skills gained during these lunar missions. Because commercial parties will now partly arrange the supply and crew of the ISS, NASA can fully focus on those ambitions. After all, the work on board the ISS continues as usual. And the latter is important; many experiments that are done in the ISS and technology that is (further) developed in the ISS, will eventually pave the way for a long stay on other celestial bodies, such as the moon and Mars. So tonight’s launch is part of a much bigger story. A story that goes far beyond the orbit of the ISS.

The Crew Dragon is now en route to SpaceX ‘Dragon Lair’ in Florida, where the capsule will be thoroughly inspected. Teams will examine the data and performance of the vessel throughout the test flight. And when everything is approved, SpaceX ‘Crew Dragon will receive the necessary certificate that will allow the spacecraft to transport astronauts and supplies to the space station on a regular basis. Although this entire process is expected to take about six weeks, the next mission with the Crew Dragon to the ISS is already planned. Following successful certification, Crew Dragon commander Michael Hopkins, pilot Victor Glover and mission specialist Shannon Walker – all from NASA – will launch alongside Japanese mission specialist Soichi Noguchi. The four crew members will spend six months on the space station. The launch will take place at the end of September at the earliest. This is then the prelude to more. Because the next flight with the Crew Dragon is also planned. In the spring of 2021, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet from ESA will head for the ISS. And that means that from now on SpaceX will actually join the big boys.

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