“America has launched. And so rises the new era of American spaceflight, and with it, the ambitions of a new generation, continuing the dream,” proclaimed one of the announcers covering the event right after Crew Dragon shot up the sky and towards the still unexplored frontier called space. The launch marks a pivotal step to reclaiming the Moon which will hopefully lead to Elon Musk’s dream of reaching Mars.
After being postponed on Wednesday, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley suited up once again to take Crew Dragon at the helm. Their destination: The International Space Station. Unlike Wednesday, the sky was mostly clear with a bit of the sun peeking through the clouds. There was a slight drizzle, which did not invoke an air of gloom, but rather hopeful tears of joy and pride.
As SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off, with the Earth melting away behind it, the people responsible for the feat shouted out in glee. It was a day to remember for everyone who witnessed it, whether it was in person or through a screen.
On Saturday, the people of Earth witnessed another milestone in human spaceflight. For the first time in history, astronauts from the United States lifted off on a capsule designed, constructed, and tested by a private space enterprise. With the launch of Crew Dragon’s Demo-2 mission, another age of space history has started—the age of commercial spaceflight.
SpaceX was at the forefront of the latest human achievement in spaceflight. Serial entrepreneur and bonafide science fiction enthusiast, Elon Musk, established SpaceX fueled by a lot of nearly impossible–but somehow attainable–dreams. Nearly a decade ago, SpaceX launched its first Dragon capsule. The privately-owned space enterprise was already looking beyond just taking cargo to the International Space Station even in its early days.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 31, 2020
Back then, SpaceX and Elon Musk dreamt of sending humans to space once more. This goal soon became even more pertinent when the United States opted to retire the Space Shuttle program in 2011, and when NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing to provide transportation to the ISS for US astronauts a few years later.
The deal was widely considered a classic case of David and Goliath when it was announced. Critics favored Boeing, believing that SpaceX was still too young to accomplish such a feat. Plus, critics did not fully recognize or fully understand Elon Musk’s capabilities. To them, SpaceX was led by a man whose primary driver seemed to be his incredulous dreams, which included taking humanity to space. But against all odds, signs eventually emerged that SpaceX was actually winning the race. The Falcon 9 was proving to be a reliable workhorse whose reusability makes it a bang-for-the-buck rocket. As time went on, Crew Dragon tests were encouraging.
By March 2019, Crew Dragon was launched into space in its Demo-1 mission. There was no crew in the mission, but the craft performed remarkably. Further tests, a brief mishap, and even more tests followed, which ultimately culminated in the recent Demo-2 mission, which saw spacecraft commander Hurley and veteran astronaut Behnken taking a trip to the International Space Station in the Crew Dragon capsule.
To say that SpaceX met a lot of resistance from critics is an understatement. To say that the private space enterprise had an easy time getting to where it is today is an even bigger one. Since it was established in 2002, SpaceX has been founded on first principles thinking, sheer hard work, and Musk’s resilient dream. And as a Falcon 9 spacecraft flew on Saturday carrying American astronauts from American soil for the first time in nine years, one would see that sometimes, dreams do happen, but not without hard work, perseverance, sheer tenacity, and a little crazy.