After years of planning and preparing, Elon Musk’s SpaceX became the first commercial company to put astronauts into space last month. On the 30th of May, a Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Crew Dragon Spaceship was launched at Cape Canaveral Florida.
The spaceship was manned by Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley – two veteran NASA astronauts. The Crew Dragon spacecraft was designed by Musk’s company SpaceX and launched by NASA. This event was significant for NASA as it marked the first time that they had sent humans to space since the Space Shuttle programme ended in July of 2011. Up until this point, NASA had been using Russian Soyuz rockets in Kazakhstan to get their astronauts to space.
The Dragon reached the International Space Station after nineteen hours of flight, and astronauts Robert and Douglas were welcomed aboard roughly two hours after docking. At the time, the ISS was located about 421 kilometres above the Chinese/Mongolian border. They were greeted by fellow astronaut Chris Cassidy, and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
According to Elon Musk, this trip marked the beginning of SpaceX’s involvement in human space travel. He stated that he had plans to send more astronauts to the ISS, to the moon, and, eventually, to Mars. Although SpaceX was initially marketed as a way of transporting light satellites and other small payloads to space using low-cost rockets, it has evidently evolved into something much bigger. Back in 2003, Musk talked about terraforming Mars to convert it into a liveable environment for humans. While that may have seemed whimsical back then, advancements in space technology are, at the very least, making it seem very plausible that humans will walk on Mars in the not so far future.
SpaceX have put forward plans to develop Mars transportation infrastructure to eventually achieve human colonisation of Mars. The plan involves reusable launch vehicles, and it even aims to allow for the production of rocket fuel on Mars itself through the use of in situ resource utilisation. The space vehicle used is planned to also be reusable – they will be using their own spacecraft ‘Starship’, which has been in development since 2018. It has been the goal of the company since 2017 to have humans on Mars by 2024.
Musk has also set his sights on having humans return to the moon. Back in 2018, it was announced that fashion innovator and art curator, Yusaku Maezawa, will be the first private passenger of SpaceX to orbit the moon in one of their spacecrafts. He is set to fly around the moon in 2023, and this mission is intended to help fund the development of two of the company’s spacecrafts: Starship and Super Heavy. According to SpaceX, this will be a key step in “enabling access for everyday people who dream of flying to space”, something that would society’s perception of space travel forever.
What began as a cheap way of launching satellites to space has become a vital contributor to space technology advancement. Whatever the future holds for SpaceX, it’s sure to keep people hooked.