Regardless of how Elon Musk's other ventures are currently doing, the country is undoubtedly one step closer to space tourism thanks to a successful SpaceX launch that took place this weekend. At the same time, NASA is reaping the rewards of its gamble to partner with private industry.
On March 1 at 2:49 AM, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched, carrying a crew capsule with a life-sized test dummy named Ripley. The rocket carried Crew Dragon on its way to the space station, where it will spend five days docked to an orbiting outpost before making a splashdown back into the Atlantic ocean next Friday. The launch represents crucial training for the next space demo, which may take place this summer – only this time with two astronauts.
NASA called the launch "a big night for United States of America". At a NASA news conference, Elon Musk seemed pleased, yet exhausted. According to AP he said: “To be frank, I’m a little emotionally exhausted. We have to dock to the station. We have to come back, but so far it’s worked ... we’ve passed the riskiest items.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a tweet: "Today's successful launch marks a new chapter in American excellence, getting us closer to once again flying American Astronauts on American rockets from American soil. Congratulations to SpaceX and NASA teams for this major milestone in our nation's history."
“We are not in a space race,” he continued. “That race is over. We went to the moon and we won. It’s done. Now we’re in a position where we can take our time and make sure we get it right.”
SpaceX has already made several trips to the orbiting lab for NASA, but proving that it can safely put humans there is the key to the company's longer-term ambitions of space tourism - and eventually colonizing other planets. This launch paves the way for those longer-term goals.
An estimated 5,000 people were watching at Kennedy Space Center with the SpaceX team as the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off. At SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California, company employees cheered every step of the way until the capsule successfully reached orbit. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, the two astronauts slated for this summer's demo, were also on hand to watch.
Hurley said: “It’s an incredibly sleek looking vehicle from the inside and it’s very easy to operate.” The Dragon has 30 buttons and screens, compared with the space shuttle's 2,000 switches and breakers.
“Seeing a success like this definitely gives us a lot of confidence in the future,” said Behnken. Musk reportedly said of using the same launch pad as the Apollo 11 mission: ”I would never have believed that this would ever happen. It’s incredible history. I hope we go back to the moon soon.”
The launch is a crucial step for SpaceX, which has never put an astronaut into space, despite demonstrating rockets with rapid reusability.
You can watch the entire launch below.