Tuesday, June 15

NASA astronauts just flew SpaceX’s Crew Dragon into orbit for the first time

A milestone for commercial space: Demo-2 marks the first time in its 18-year history that SpaceX has sent humans into space. The company has bullishly pursued reusable architecture as a way to cut down the cost of missions, and the use of a reusable rocket with a reusable vehicle for a crewed mission opens up more possibilities for sending astronauts and private citizens into space for less money. 

The mission also marks the first time a private company has pulled off a crewed mission into low Earth orbit. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has repeatedly said in the past that the agency wants to see low Earth orbit become commercialized, and turning over such operations to the private sector is a central part of those plans. Interested customers like NASA could now turn to SpaceX as an option for going into orbit, and Bridenstine told reporters after launch that Demo-2 shows this is “a successful business model.”

SpaceX, for its part, has its sights set beyond Earth’s orbit. “This is hopefully the first step on a journey towards a civilization on Mars,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told reporters, referring to the company’s work on Starship. “That’s getting increasingly real after what happened today.”

What’s next: Behnken and Hurley’s stay on the station could last anywhere from 30 to 119 days; NASA will decide on the exact duration at a later time. At the end of their mission they will take Crew Dragon back down to Earth. Meanwhile, SpaceX will be following up Demo-2 with Crew-1, the first formally operational flight of Crew Dragon. The mission, expected to happen in late August, will take three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut up to the ISS.  

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