Everything about SpaceX mission and how it is a great step towards space tourism


Everything about SpaceX mission and how it is a great step towards space tourism


A month or two back we experience a landmark event in the history of space travel. It all went according to the plan on the 27th of May 2020 and we saw for the first time in nine years the launch of astronauts from American soil going to the International Space Station. The last mission of this kind was the final NASA space shuttle mission in 2011 before the Space Shuttle was decommissioned, after which all of the missions to the space station were launched from Russia on Soyuz Rockets. This new mission is also a big deal because it's the first crewed mission to the International Space Station to be run by a private company. SpaceX aren't merely supplying the rocket and spacecraft to NASA, they're actually running the entire mission as well. So this really is the beginning of commercial human spaceflight.

In this blog I've tried to summarize everything you need to know about this mission. This mission is the final test to validate that SpaceX can deliver astronauts to and from the space station. The astronauts flying this mission are Douglas G. Hurley and Robert L. Behnken – they're both veterans of the space shuttle program with two flights each under their belts and it's very cool for Douglas Hurley because he was the pilot of the final space shuttle mission and now he's the pilot of the first commercial flight. They've both come across as being very calm and confident, which is what you want – if it was me, I would be feeling very anxious. Obviously, everyone's gone to great lengths to make sure everything's as safe as possible, but spaceflight is inherently risky and being the first people to sit on top of a new rocket and get blasted into space is – Well, I can't even imagine what that would be like. Uh, probably pretty amazing and pretty terrifying.

Everything about SpaceX mission and how it is a great step towards space tourism


This is the vehicle they'll be traveling in. Most of this is the Falcon 9 rocket – that'll get them into space. But the top bit is the spacecraft housing the astronauts. For safety this is a kind of... ejector mechanism that can launch it away from the main rocket if there are any problems during the launch. This is called the Integrated Launch Escape System. And everything on this spacecraft has been slightly over-engineered in case of failures: the escape system only really needs four engines, but it's got eight for redundancy. And the main Falcon 9 rocket only needs seven engines to get into space, but has got nine just in case. On this test flight only two seats are going to be used, but it's got capacity for seven astronauts. The biggest change from other spacecraft is that this one's controlled via touchscreen monitors. I have to admit, I was kind of surprised when I learned this. I would have thought that a single point of failure would be risky from an engineering point of view. All of your controls go through one screen and you can't really fix if it breaks. But what do I know? I'm not a space engineer. I'm sure they've tested this like crazy and on the plus side it does free up a lot of space from [the] million switches and levers that you see in other spacecraft. And anyway, most of the flight is completely automated. Although, the astronauts do have a manual override if they need to take control.

Let's take a look at the overall mission:

Another difference to other missions is that the astronauts will be sitting on top of the rocket while it's being fuelled. In other missions they fuel the rocket before the astronauts embark. They're fuelling it with the astronauts on top so that they can launch as soon as the fuel is in the rocket, which they want to do because they're using cooled propellants – liquid oxygen and kerosene – which are more effective when they're cold. The worry is that the rocket could explode during fuelling, which has happened once but SpaceX have fuelled safely many times and NASA have given it the green light, so they think it's safe.

Everything about SpaceX mission and how it is a great step towards space tourism

After the launch, the first stage of the rocket separates and comes back to earth to land on a barge, which is an amazing feat of engineering because this part of the rocket is reusable – It brings the cost of spaceflight way down for this mission. On the way to the space station the astronauts will test fly the spacecraft with the manual controls and then oversee an automatic docking with the space station Then they'll be working on the space station for two to three months, before flying back down to earth – I say flying. It's more of a ...controlled falling. This mission is the final test to prove to NASA that SpaceX can safely deliver astronauts to and from the International Space Station. They've made lots of cargo deliveries before, but never transported people.

 And to get to this stage, they've had to pass a whole set of safety tests shown here:

Everything about SpaceX mission and how it is a great step towards space tourism

The pad abort test was to test the escape system to make sure it works properly and this was passed in 2015, but unfortunately in 2019 the escape system rockets exploded during a test, which set the whole schedule back by nearly a year. Fortunately, they fixed the issue at the end of 2019 Retested it and all works okay, and then they successfully tested the escape system in mid-air where they blew up a whole rocket to make sure that the crew capsule could get away from it okay. Back in March of 2019 they ran this whole mission to the space station and back, just without the astronauts on board. And so this mission, taken place on 27th of May, will be the final test to prove that they can safely deliver people to space and get them back safely. If this all works, it's very cool because it's a new, cheaper way to get people into space. And this has all happened because of NASA's Commercial Crew program. This is a NASA program to fund commercial companies to incentivize them to work out ways of efficiently getting into space.

Everything about SpaceX mission and how it is a great step towards space tourism


SpaceX is not the only beneficiary of this program, Boeing also has a spacecraft in the works as well. And so this mission, if successful, really marks the beginning of commercial space travel and potentially the beginning of space tourism. In the future a company called Space Adventures is planning to sell tickets to fly into space beyond the Space Station for something like 50 million dollars a ticket. And that ticket price is way cheaper than any seat to space in the past. NASA have also given the go-ahead to a company called Axiom Space, who are planning to build a commercial space station in orbit which would also be served by rockets like the SpaceX Falcon 9. But all of these plans hinge on the success of the mission last month, which is why it feels like a landmark event in space aviation. I'm very excited to watch it, I'll be there watching it as it happens, but I want to hear from you, too. Will you watch? and what do you think about this commercialization of space and space tourism? Do you think it's a good way to fund space science, or are you generally worried about what all these wealthy people will be doing up there? Leave me your thoughts in the comments below.


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