A new era has begun in space exploration with Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully launching four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on the first full-fledged taxi flight for Nasa by a private company. The launch happened a day later than planned due to bad weather but at 7:27 p.m. local time on Sunday, November 15, it took off with four astronauts on board: Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Soichi Noguchi.
In May, SpaceX propelled astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station in a Crew Dragon capsule named "Endeavour", the first manned mission to launch from US soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
Because these vehicles will technically be owned by SpaceX and Boeing, with NASA serving as a customer that buys missions for astronauts, the companies will also be able to use their vehicles to fly tourists, private researchers or anyone else who can afford a $50 million-plus ticket.
The launch from pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center is a major milestone in NASA's Commercial Crew Program and SpaceX, the first commercial enterprise to put humans in orbit. They and Baby Yoda will remain at the station until around the spring prior to making their way back to Earth.
"NASA is delivering on its commitment to the American people and our worldwide partners to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective missions to the global Space Station using American private industry", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
Resilience will dock autonomously to the forward port of the station's Harmony module about 11 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16. NASA Television and the agency's website are providing ongoing live coverage through docking, hatch opening, and the ceremony to welcome the crew aboard the orbiting laboratory. This is the first global crew to launch aboard an American commercial spacecraft.
It marked NASA's first operational flight with SpaceX's Crew Dragon.
It's not the first time an adorable critter has been used to establish zero gravity on a space mission. "The history being made this time is we're launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station".
NASA has a similar agreement with the Boeing aerospace company, although its service is more than a year behind SpaceX.
Crew commander Mike Hopkins, 51, is an Air Force colonel and former space station resident who grew up on a hog and cattle farm in Missouri. Once reaching orbit, he radioed: "That was one heck of a ride". "Resilience is in orbit".
A plush Baby Yoda toy floated around the cabin of SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, named Resilience, after it left Earth's atmosphere.