Resilience : The NASA, Spacex Crew-1, the first operational mission to the ISS this Sunday

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Crew Dragon capsule | Credits: SpaceX

We, the humans crave for things that are farther away to catch. Space is one such milestone for us. It was an inspiration for all of us. It has been and it always will. Defying the gravity and reaching the final frontier is not an easy thing, yet we did many a time.

I was not born when “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” happened. When there was no YouTube to witness the historic moment, the world has come together and witnessed it through TVs, radios etc.

If I was born back then, I would have thought of having my grand children colonizing Mars and beyond. I wasn’t born then and even that imagination didn’t come true. Let’s not wait for the train that’s gone.

We are on the cusp of a New Space Age. We are blessed to witness a movie in the making. Space has been an expensive affair. Only governments could think of it. It was the same for decades, only until few billionaires stepped out to change the convention. Elon Musk, Jeff Bozos , Richard Branson are few among many yet to join this game. Yes, I am taking about the new era of Commercial Space.

NASA SpaceX Crew-1 Launch, this Saturday

Remember the day in May? When the whole world is fighting the pandemic, two NASA astronauts flew aboard the Crew Dragon Endeavor capsule atop Falcon 9 rocket. The capsule docked to the International Space Station and the duo Bob and Doug splashed down in the water on the Florida coast after a more than sixty days long science at the ISS. That was an incredible moment and while we didn’t get out of the nostalgia of it, one more epic is on the schedule.

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NASA SpaceX Crew 1 | Credits: NASA

After a final launch readiness review on Friday , NASA and SpaceX agreed to target launch for 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday, Nov. 15, due to onshore winds and first stage booster recovery readiness. Crew Dragon named Resilience will fly atop the Falcon rocket from the historic Launch Complex 39A.

Earlier, this launch was planned for Saturday but delayed. Recovering the first stage booster is critical as the same booster will be used for the Crew-2 launch.

This time it carries four astronauts — NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)and some cargo.

While this may seem a routine launch after a successful trip, there are some key differences. Moreover, as we hear every mission is a test flight and every launch and landing ( thanks to SpaceX ) is to be celebrated. Let’s talk about what differs from the May launch.

Though it seems fancier to see SpaceX land rocket boosters routinely, it was a hell of ride to reach the day of first rotational mission to the ISS. It took years of design and development, tens of thousands of simulations and testing. As the NASA blog says, The Crew Dragon, including the Falcon 9 rocket and associated ground systems, is the first new, crew spacecraft to be NASA-certified for regular flights with astronauts since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago.

“I’m extremely proud to say we are returning regular human spaceflight launches to American soil on an American rocket and spacecraft,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This certification milestone is an incredible achievement from NASA and SpaceX that highlights the progress we can make working together with commercial industry.”

Crew-1 is the first of three scheduled Dragon flights over the course of 2020 and 2021.

Even though the Crew Dragon capsule is built to accommodate up to seven people, NASA restricted the May’s Demo-2 test flight to two astronauts, Bob and Doug. However, Crew-1 carries four crew astronauts and the rest of the spacecraft is reserved for cargo to the ISS.

Crew Dragon interior on SpaceX YouTube channel

The Demo-2 test mission is flawless and was a safe trip to the home. However, after rigorous after-flight observations, NASA and SpaceX teams concluded to do a little more on the heat shield that saves the capsule from the 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit heat on re-entry into the atmosphere. The material on the shield eroded more than expected and yes, it’s always better to be careful when humans fly on board.

Besides this, the sensor that triggers the parachutes for splashdown, is replaced with a more sensitive one. The Falcon 9 rocket’s two Merlin engines were also swapped out after the October 2 launch abort.

This mission will be of six months duration as all other routine ISS trips. It means the spacecraft will stay docked to the ISS for the total duration. It allows more science to be done on the ISS. Moreover, moving people to and fro the space station is expensive. Four people for six months at the ISS will be astronomical progress in terms of science. If everything goes well, there will be a capsule ready to fly astronauts to ISS right after another capsule brought the crew back home from the ISS.

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Crew Dragon atop Falcon 9 rocket at the Cape Canaveral

This Sunday, when the countdown ticks zero, the Falcon 9 lifts off. After the first stage of the rocket burns all of its fuel, it separates and starts it way back to land on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.The second stage keeps going and will eventually cuts off its engine and then the Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate and go on for rendezvous with the ISS and will dock autonomously.

The return will not be on the cards for six months, but if you are excited to know how it goes, read my story on the same. Almost every thing stays the same for return except for the fact that we will miss the people on private boats chasing to witness the splashdown. There will be a ten mile radius no-go around the splashdown area as this is now a certified commercial mission.

This is just the dawn of commercial space age. Considering the policies by the United States and other nations towards commercial space transition, we will be able to witness more things that so far have been either sci-fi or history . Let’s wish the quartet a happy journey!

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