HAWTHORNE (CNS) - The Crew Dragon capsule built by Hawthorne-based SpaceX is expected to dock at the International Space Station at approximately 8 p.m. California time tonight for a six-month science mission by its four-person crew.
The Crew-1 mission launched at 4:27 p.m. Sunday California time from Cape Canaveral in Florida, the first crew-rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft. Minutes later, the Crew Dragon capsule separated from the rocket for a 27.5-hour trip to the International Space Station.
Falcon 9's first-stage booster rocket landed on the droneship named Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean, enabling it to be used for SpaceX's next astronaut launch, the Crew-2 mission, whose date has not been announced.
“This is a great day for the United States of America and a great day for Japan,'' NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Sunday. “We look forward to many more years of a great partnership, not just in low-Earth orbit but all the way to the Moon.''
The crew consists of three NASA astronauts -- U.S. Air Force Col. Mike Hopkins, the mission commander, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, the pilot, and mission specialist Shannon Walker, a physicist -- and mission specialist Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, an aeronautical engineer.
“Everybody is so fired up, they're so excited about this mission,'' said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, NASA Headquarters. “But we're not done yet. We need to keep going.
“That spacecraft is out there with those four precious crew members on it. And we're going to get them safely to the International Space Station.''
Glover was born in Pomona and graduated from Ontario High School. Hopkins was a captain of the 1991 University of Illinois football team, which lost to UCLA 6-3 in the John Hancock Bowl to conclude a 6-6 season.
President-elect Joe Biden tweeted his congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on the launch, calling it “a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination. I join all Americans and the people of Japan in wishing the astronauts Godspeed on their journey.''
President Donald Trump tweeted, “A great launch! @NASA was a closed-up disaster when we took over. Now it is again the 'hottest', most advanced, space center in the world, by far!''
The launch had been scheduled 4:49 p.m. California Saturday but rescheduled for 4:27 p.m. Sunday because of “onshore winds and recovery operations,'' according to Bridenstine.
Sunday's Crew-1 mission was originally set for Halloween, but had to be delayed so SpaceX could make needed upgrades to the Falcon 9 rocket being used for the launch.
The crew will take part in a host of microgravity experiments while aboard the International Space Station. It will also continue an experiment of growing radishes in space, helping to further understanding of how changes in gravity and atmosphere affect plant growth, considered key to future extended human travel to the moon and Mars.
The Dragon capsule is carrying a variety of scientific hardware and materials for experiments, including a food physiology study to examine the effect of diet on the immune system during space travel and a student-designed “Genes in Space'' experiment of how spaceflight affects brain function.
In May, SpaceX propelled astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the space station in a Crew Dragon capsule named “Endeavour,'' the first manned mission to launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.
While successful and hailed as a historic rejuvenation of U.S. spaceflight, that mission was technically just a demonstration flight, showing off the capabilities of the Crew Dragon. An earlier flight of a Crew Dragon capsule was unmanned, but it also successfully reached the space station with a belly full of cargo.
Sunday's launch is thus considered the first fully operational mission for a Crew Dragon. The capsule used in the mission, named “Resilience,'' was built to accommodate four astronauts instead of the two who flew in the May launch.
The Crew-1 mission is the first of three planned Crew Dragon flights in 2020 and 2021.
Photo: Getty Images