SpaceX: successful takeoff, the American company sends three astronauts to the international space station
Sylvie Claire / November 17, 2020
Three American astronauts and a Japanese were on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday aboard a SpaceX rocket, NASA's new means of space transportation after nine years of dependence on Russia. "It's a big day for the United States of America and for Japan," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off on time Sunday night from the Kennedy Space Center with Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi strapped to the capsule attached to the top. "It was a hell of a launch," said Captain Michael Hopkins, once in orbit. The first stage quickly detached before returning to land on a drone ship, SpaceX's trademark. Twelve minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 200 km and a speed of 27,000 km / h, the capsule itself broke off from the second stage.
6 month assignment
SpaceX confirmed it was on the right orbit to join the ISS just over 27 hours later, around 04:00 GMT on Tuesday. "She's doing it right," SpaceX number two Gwynne Shotwell confirmed at a press conference. But "we will breathe a sigh of relief in about 26 hours, when we hand the crew over to NASA
They will meet in the station two Russians and an American, and will remain six months in the orbital laboratory, spinning around the Earth at 400 km above the oceans. This first "operational" flight follows the successful demonstration mission from May to August, during which two American astronauts were taken to the ISS then brought back to Earth safely by SpaceX, the first private company to accomplish this technological feat.
In total, SpaceX is due to launch two other manned flights in 2021 for NASA, including in the spring with European Thomas Pesquet, and four cargo refueling missions in the next 15 months. A purely private mission, via the partner Axiom Space, is also planned for the end of 2021; while NASA hinted that Tom Cruise could visit the ISS, which has not been confirmed. And SpaceX could also add "another fun mission, I'll tell you about it later," slipped Ms. Shotwell.
"NASA was a complete disaster when we took matters into our own hands. Today it is the most popular and advanced space center in the world by far!" tweeted President Donald Trump, appropriating the success of a program launched under his two predecessors.
The man who will replace him in January, Joe Biden, also praised NASA and SpaceX, but from another angle. "It is proof of the power of science and of what we can accomplish by combining innovation, inventiveness and determination," tweeted the President-elect Democrat.
A problem with the cabin temperature control system occurred but was quickly resolved. "It was just a little starting problem," confirmed Kathy Lueders, chief of manned space flights at NASA.
It took nine years for the Americans to certify the successor of the shuttles, retired in 2011. NASA has chosen public-private partnerships. A second aircraft, Starliner, manufactured by Boeing, is behind schedule and could be operational in a year. NASA hopes to continue cooperation with Russia. She has offered seat swaps, but negotiations between NASA and Roskosmos are dragging on.
The reality is that the ties between Washington and Moscow in the space domain, one of the few where they remained good, are weakening. Breaking with more than 20 years of cooperation on the ISS, Russia will not participate in the next mini-station wanted by NASA around the Moon, the Gateway.
For Artemis, this American program to return to the Moon in 2024, NASA has signed partnerships with other space agencies, including Japan and Europe, but the future is not clear: it has not yet received from the US Congress the tens of billions of dollars needed to finalize it. And Joe Biden has not taken over the 2024 target.