SpaceX has succeeded. According to experts there was a 50% probability that the weather conditions did not make the launch possible. This was what happened on May 27 , which was the day it was initially going to take place, which has meant that all of us who have followed it live have been in suspense until the last moment. Fortunately, today everything went well.
This has been the first time that a private company has placed two astronauts into orbit. The chosen ones have been Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, two experienced NASA astronauts who have an enormous responsibility on their shoulders: to carry out this mission to demonstrate that the ambitious model of space transport that Elon Musk and Tom Mueller began to devise in 2002 it is safe and viable. At stake is nothing less than a short-term return to the Moon and the beginning of the colonization of Mars .
But there is something else. Something very important to the American space program. If Demo-2, which is what this mission is officially called, goes as expected, and within approximately 19 hours the Crew Dragon spacecraft Behnken and Hurley are traveling on successfully docks with the International Space Station, the United States will leave relying on Russian Soyuz capsules to place their astronauts in space.
What is this mission about and why is it so important?
The resources that need to be mobilized to carry out a launch like the one we just witnessed at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral are impressive. The Falcon 9 rocket that has been commissioned to place the Crew Dragon ship into orbit has used just over 500 tons of fuel if we add that of the first and second stages of the space vehicle. As fuel, he has used kerolox , a combination of RP-1, which is a petroleum derivative similar to kerosene, and cryogenic liquid oxygen. An interesting note: RP-1 is stored in the tank at -7 ° C and liquid oxygen at no less than -207 ° C.
Right now the Crew Dragon spacecraft is already orbiting Earth in low orbit, several hundred kilometers above the Earth’s surface, and will stay on this trajectory for 19 hours to gradually approach the International Space Station, which is located at 410 km high and travels at 27,000 km / h. When the spacecraft reaches the position of the space station, it will have to undertake the coupling, a delicate maneuver that will be carried out semi-automatically under the supervision of Bob Behnken, who will also be in charge of decoupling when the mission ends.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft will remain in low orbit for 19 hours to gradually approach the International Space Station, which is 410 km high and is moving at 27,000 km / h.
Each astronaut has his functions well defined. As we’ve just seen, Behnken will oversee the docking and undocking of the Crew Dragon capsule with the International Space Station, and Doug Hurley will be in charge of directing the launch, landing, and recovery of the spacecraft. The two astronauts will remain at the station for 6 to 16 weeks (the exact duration of the mission has not yet been set by NASA), so that when their work is done there they will return to the capsule, which will undock from the station and begin its reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. The Crew Dragon will land in a controlled manner on the Earth’s surface using parachutes.
This mission is very important for several reasons. In one of them we have investigated a few paragraphs above: it will serve to demonstrate the operational viability of the ships designed by SpaceX as a means of transporting people to space. In addition, it will allow the United States to avoid its current dependence on Russia and its Soyuz spacecraft. And there is something else: this milestone also promises to be the starting gun for commercial space flights that seek to transport civilian personnel into space , with certainty upon payment of an amount of money that will be available to very few people.
Return to the Moon and colonization of Mars are one step closer
If everything goes well and the Demo-2 mission concludes successfully within several weeks, humanity will have taken a very important step forward in achieving two new milestones: the return to the Moon and the beginning of the colonization of Mars. At the end of last year, Donald Trump ordered NASA to advance the next mission to the Moon to 2024 , and SpaceX vehicles will play an essential role in this program.
Returning to our planet’s natural satellite is interesting for several reasons. One of them is to study the feasibility of extracting the helium-3 that accumulates under its surface, an element that could be key in future nuclear fusion reactors . But in a predictably much shorter time frame the Moon will be a necessary stop on the way to Mars because its reduced gravity allows spacecraft to take off with far less energy than they need to escape Earth’s gravity.
Colonizing Mars without previously establishing a base on the Moon will not be possible. But Elon Musk seems to have everything tied up, so much so that on several occasions he has assured that his plan involves placing the first men on the red planet in 2025. We will see if he succeeds in achieving his objective, but, of course, today he has taken a very important step in this direction.