Yesterday evening marked a significant turning point in human spaceflight, with the first operational mission of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program getting underway. CSA Astronaut David Saint-Jacques shared his comments on this historical moment.
From Yuri Gagarin’s landmark voyage 59 years ago all the way up until last night, the only viable means for putting an astronaut into orbit remained aboard government space agency vehicles. Now, with the successful launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Resilience, carrying an international team bound for the space station, the door to space has truly opened for private enterprise.
During an interview with CBC yesterday, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques called the launch “the dawn of a new era.”
“This particular rocket that’s launching a bit later tonight is actually mostly reusable. It lands back. That is something that has never been achieved before… that kind of allows the national space agencies to shift their focus to going back to the moon and eventually going to Mars,” he said in the hours prior to liftoff. “We’ve been waiting for this ever since I joined the astronaut office 11 years ago.”
In addition to marking the first operational crew mission for a commercial entity, this success also means the return of American astronaut launch capability. Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, the only show in town for transit to the international space station has been the Russian Soyuz.
Having both reached and departed the ISS aboard a Soyuz vehicle during expedition 57/58/59, Saint-Jacques was well positioned to respond when asked to compare that vehicle against the SpaceX Crew Dragon.
“For the Soyuz, we spent over 2 years learning to fly this machine,” he stated, pointing to the fact that the Crew Dragon requires less training due to an increased level of automation. He also indicated that – unlike the Soyuz – there is no requirement to learn Russian in order to pilot the SpaceX vehicle.
He further made reference to the modern layout, saying the Crew Dragon is “probably a bit more comfortable” and likening his experience of entering the prototype Dragon to the feel of a business class lounge for an aircraft.
The four crew of last night’s launch are still currently en route to the space station, and are scheduled to dock this evening at 11PM ET. Upon their arrival, NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi will be joining RSA cosmonauts Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, Sergey Ryzhikov and NASA astronaut Kathleen Rubins as members of Expedition 64.
With a crew of 7 and only 6 sleeping quarters the ISS will have a full house, requiring one astronaut to sleep in the dragon capsule.
The Crew-1 mission will run for six months, with a scheduled return to Earth in spring of 2021 following a handover to astronauts aboard the next commercial crew mission, Crew-2.
See the CBC interview with Canadian Astronaut David Saint-Jacques here
Learn about the Canadian Space Agency here
Feature Image: ‘CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques works on space biology hardware’ by NASA under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, source
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