SpaceX Successfully Launches Rocket en route for the International Space Station
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — It’s not often that Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX, gets emotional, but the seemingly flawless launch of Crew Dragon — his company’s first spaceship built to fly astronauts — apparently ranks up there.
SpaceX launched its first Crew Dragon on a Falcon 9 rocket in a brilliant predawn liftoff today (March 2), sending the spacecraft to the International Space Station with a dummy astronaut named Ripley, a stuffed Earth toy and a few supplies for the station’s three-person crew. The mission, called Demo-1, is SpaceX’s big chance to show it can build a crewed spaceship, something Musk has dreamed about since he founded the company in 2002.
“I’m a little emotionally exhausted,” Musk said in a post-launch press conference here at the mission’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site. “It’s super stressful, but it worked, so far.”
In fact, Crew Dragon’s launch debut appears to be a stunning success. A smooth late-night countdown led to a dazzling liftoff as the Falcon 9 booster lit up the sky over KSC’s Launch Complex 39A.
Today’s launch is just the start of a SpaceX flight test to show NASA its new Crew Dragon spacecraft is ready to carry astronauts. Musk watched the launch from Firing Room 4 here with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who will fly on the first crewed Crew Dragon mission as early as July.
“It’s been 17 years. We still haven’t launched anyone yet, but hopefully, we will later this year,” Musk said of SpaceX. “So, that will definitely be the culmination of a long dream for a lot of people, me and other people at SpaceX, for sure. Can’t wait.”
SpaceX is one of two companies with a NASA contract to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station. The other company, Boeing, is developing its own CST-100 Starliner spacecraft to launch astronauts using Atlas V rockets. SpaceX and Boeing both plan uncrewed test flights and in-flight abort system tests before flying human crews.
There was a time, Musk said when he though SpaceX had maybe just a 10 percent chance of ever getting anything into orbit. The company’s first three Falcon 1 rockets, a smaller predecessor of its workhorse Falcon 9 fleet, all failed. The fourth, Musk added, was pieced together from remaining parts, but succeeded.
“The whole goal of SpaceX was crewed spaceflight. Improved space exploration technologies,” he said. “That’s actually the full name of the company, Space Exploration Technologies.”
SpaceX has evolved beyond its small Falcon 1 rockets to pioneer reusable rockets and spacecraft for orbital flights. The company has built robotic Dragon cargo ships for NASA, upgraded its Falcon 9 boosters for maximum reusability, launched a Falcon Heavy heavy-lift rocket and is developing a massive spacecraft (its Starship and Super Heavy) for passenger flights to the moon and beyond.
“I really believe in the future of space, and I think it’s important that we become a space-faring civilization and get out there among the stars,” Musk said. “And I think that’s one of the things that, you know, makes people excited about the future. We want the things that are in science fiction novels and movies not to be science fiction forever. We want them to be real one day.”