Internet magnate Elon Musk is preparing to launch two astronauts into space in SpaceX’s $ 4 billion touchscreen spaceship today, marking the beginning of a new era of privatized exploration.
Veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken take a Tesla ride through Kennedy Space Center in their Hollywood-inspired ‘Starman’ suits and tap their Falcon 9 rocket ship with a touchpad.
The Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch at 5.33pm (8.33pm GMT) and if everything goes according to plan, SpaceX will become the first private company to orbit astronauts, something that will only be reached by three countries: Russia, the US and China.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will be in Kennedy to watch the first crewed flight from American soil in nine years, with weather looking 60 percent favorable despite previous fears of a thunderstorm.
The new Crew Dragon capsule will take off from Launch Pad 39A, the same from which Neil Armstrong and his Apollo crew set out on their historic journey to the Moon.
Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, are former USAF pilots who have both achieved colonel rank and have been admitted to the NASA astronaut class of 2020. Both have been in space twice before NASA’s space shuttle retired in 2011. went.
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on board the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Almost 230 feet long, the ship burns cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) to give the grunt to launch as many as 25 tons into low Earth orbit. After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are checked for full thrust before the missile is released for flight. Then, with a thrust of more than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket into space, but unlike a 747 engine, the rocket’s thrust actually increases with height.
Veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (photo during training) take a Tesla ride through Kennedy Space Center in their Hollywood-inspired ‘Starman’ suits and tap their Falcon 9 rocket ship with a touchpad
Falcon 9 generates just over 1.3 million pounds of sea level thrust, but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled at the end of the first stage to limit acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with fuel combustion. The Falcon 9 then releases the lower part of the rocket called ‘the booster’, using a fully pneumatic system, unlike traditional pyrotechnic systems. The surviving single Merlin vacuum motor then delivers the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS
Behnken (49) (left) and Hurley (53) are former USAF pilots who have both achieved colonel rank and were admitted to the NASA astronaut class of 2020. Both have been in space twice before NASA’s space shuttle in 2011 retired. .
The Falcon 9 missile and Crew Dragon capsule
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is named after the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, the number 9 refers to the nine Merlin engines that power the first phase of its flight; with another Merlin vacuum motor driving the second stage.
Almost 230 feet long, the ship burns cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) to give the grunt to launch as many as 25 tons into low Earth orbit.
After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are checked for full thrust before the missile is released for flight.
Then, with a thrust of more than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the missile into space, but unlike a 747 engine, the missile’s thrust actually increases with height.
Falcon 9 generates just over 1.3 million pounds of sea level thrust, but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled at the end of the first stage to limit acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with fuel combustion.
The SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Dragon capsule on top of the rocket, will be hoisted on Launch Pad 39-A on Tuesday, May 26, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The capsule is designed to carry seven crew members, and the controls are centered around touch screens that are compatible with the gloves the astronauts use in their spacesuits.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft on board can be seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A while preparations for the Demo-2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday May 25, 2020 to continue. (Bill Ingalls / NASA via AP)
The Falcon 9 then releases the lower part of the rocket called ‘the booster’, using a fully pneumatic system, unlike traditional pyrotechnic systems.
The surviving single Merlin vacuum motor then delivers the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS.
The Crew Dragon capsule, evolved from SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon capsule, sits at the nose of the rocket.
After the Falcon 9 launch, the bottom part of the rocket, called “the booster,” will come off and fall back through Earth’s atmosphere. A SpaceX drone ship in the sea will then attempt to retrieve the multi-million dollar booster.
Just under 27 feet long and 13 feet wide, the capsule contains a proprietary system of 16 small ‘Draco’ rocket motors for finer direction control in space and should be taken down if necessary. Each Draco bow thruster can generate 90 pounds of force in the vacuum of space.
Designed to carry seven crew members, the controls are centered around touchscreens that are compatible with the gloves the astronauts use in their spacesuits.
All Falcon 9 structures, engines, separation systems, ground systems and most avionics are designed, manufactured and tested in the United States by SpaceX.
The ‘Starman’ spacesuit
It was designed jointly by Jose Fernandez, a costume designer known for his work on the Marvel series and Tron: Legacy, and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. The concept was then reverse engineered by SpaceX engineers.
A mannequin named ‘Starman’ (named after David Bowie’s song) wore the spacesuit during the first launch of the Falcon Heavy (freighter) in February 2018. Before the exhibition launched, the suit was not pressurized and had no sensors .
Behnken and Hurley will put on the suits designed specifically for use in the Dragon capsule. These are IVA (intravehicular activity) type suits, which means that they are not suitable for use outside the ship and do not provide radiation protection.
However, the suit is suitable for vacuum and can also protect the astronauts from a rapid pressure drop of the cabin by means of a cable on the thigh with air and electronic connections. The suits also provide the astronauts with their own custom air conditioning so they can stay cool or warm.
The suits are made from ‘Nomex’, a fire retardant fabric similar to Kevlar. The helmets, which are 3D printed, contain microphones and speakers.
Since the suits do not protect against radiation, they should not be used for activities outside the vehicle.
Who is Elon Musk and what is SpaceX?
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded in 2002 by marijuana smoking magnate and innovator Elon Musk. Gradually, the 48-year-old has earned the trust of the world’s largest space agency.
In 2012, SpaceX was the first private company to dock a cargo capsule on the ISS and has been regularly stocking the station since. It charges NASA $ 62 million for a standard Falcon 9 trip.
In 2014, NASA ordered the next step: to transport its astronauts there, starting in 2017, by modifying the Dragon capsule.
Earlier this month, Musk’s 32-year-old girlfriend, the singer Grimes, gave birth to a son they called X Æ A-Xii, and he recently urged his Twitter followers to “take the red pill.”
The Matrix reference, once again usurped by Donald Trump supporters, earned Musk the praise of Trump’s children Ivanka and Don Jr.
His bizarre Twitter rants have also put him on an unclear legal basis lately. Shares of his electric car company Tesla (founded in 2003) went into free fall early this month after he tweeted, “Tesla’s stock price is too high imo.”
After that, $ 14 billion was wiped out of the company’s market capitalization and $ 3 billion from Musk’s equity.
Musk, an outspoken opponent of coronavirus locking restrictions that closed Tesla’s main facility in Fremont, California, is currently tied to a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that required Tesla to introduce “controls and procedures” to oversee the CEO’s tweets.
Musk raised his eyebrows when he appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience in September, accepting a marijuana blunt from the host and then flipping through it
Why are the US going private?
“SpaceX wouldn’t be here without NASA,” Musk said last year, after a successful dress rehearsal without people for the trip to the ISS.
The space agency paid over $ 3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test, and operate its reusable capsule for six future space trips. SpaceX has made its own contributions in excess of $ 500 million.
The development has experienced delays, explosions and parachute problems, yet SpaceX has defeated aviation giant Boeing.
NASA is also paying Boeing to build its own capsule, the Starliner, which is not ready yet.
NASA’s move to invest in privately-developed spacecraft – a more economic proposition than spending tens of billions of dollars on self-developing such systems, as it had done for decades – was started for freight under the chairmanship of George W. Bush, and later under Barack Obama for human flight.
Some have said that it is not feasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I don’t agree with that, ”Obama said at the Kennedy Space Center in 2010.
At the time, there was tremendous hostility in Congress and NASA to the start-up’s claims of what it could achieve.
A decade later, another president, Trump, is attending Wednesday’s Florida launch.
The Republican is trying to reaffirm U.S. supremacy over space, militarily but also by ordering the return to the moon in 2024.
If NASA could entrust ‘low Earth orbit’ space to the private sector, it would free up dollars for more distant missions.
“We envision a future in which a low Earth orbit will be fully commercialized, with NASA being a customer of many customers,” said Jim Bridenstine, the service’s administrator.
“If we keep using US tax money … we will never get to the moon and not Mars.”
It has rained heavily in Florida in recent days, and Cape Canaveral forecasters estimate the risk of adverse weather on Wednesday at 40 percent.
If necessary, the flight is postponed to Saturday.
Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but updated for the 21st century.
Touch screens have replaced switches. The interior is dominated by white, more subtle lighting.
It looks very different from the huge space shuttles, huge winged vehicles that astronauts brought from space to America from 1981 to 2011.
“We’re expecting a smooth ride, but we’re expecting a loud ride,” said Behnken, who, like Hurley, also flew in the shuttles twice.
Unlike the shuttles, one of which – the Challenger – exploded in 1986 after takeoff, Dragon can be ejected in an emergency if the Falcon 9 missile has a problem.
Crew Dragon overtakes the station at an altitude of 400 kilometers on Thursday and will probably remain there until August.
If it fulfills its mission and is certified safe, the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians for access to space: since 2011, the Russian Soyuz rockets have been the only space taxis available.
Launches will recur regularly in Florida, with four astronauts on board.
A Japanese astronaut will make the next trip. NASA would like a Russian cosmonaut to join.
Douglas Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, are seen in a Tesla car as they leave for Launch Complex 39A during a launch dress rehearsal on May 23, 2020 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.