Space X Launches Dragon Capsule Tonight

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Space X's Dragon Capsule is ready to take off to space

The countdown begins as Space X plans the historic launch of its Dragon capsule—a spacecraft never flown before tonight for NASA. The launch is scheduled at 2:49 a.m. Eastern time from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the International Space Station.

Liftoff will be from Pad 39A — the exact same site used by NASA’s Apollo moon shots and where, nearly eight years ago, the agency launched its final space shuttle mission.

Everyone can tune in and countdown together live online!

The launch is an unmanned demonstration to help NASA and Space X determine to whether or not push through with sending actual astronauts aboard the Dragon capsule to space.

Demonstration-1 will have no crew aboard but will have an anthropomorphic test dummy (ATD) onboard. The dummy is attached with sensors to measure the gravitational loads that will be placed on the crew as well as the environment around them.

The Dragon is Space X’s first capsule intended for human flight. It is designed to carry humans into low Earth orbit and to the International Space Station.

Elon Musk, the company’s founder CEO, tweeted that if the unmanned launch goes well, Space X will send actual US astronauts into space in the summer.

SpaceX plans to launch American astronauts from United States soil for the first time since 2011. NASA space shuttles retired in 2011.

SpaceX has been flying uncrewed versions of the Dragon spacecraft to deliver NASA cargo to the International Space Station since 2012.

The Dragon is the first test launch for human space travel under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Currently, NASA relies on other country’s space agencies to launch its astronauts for the U.S. and the hope is that with the Commercial Crew Program, launches will again happen from U.S. soil.

Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of enabling humans to live on other planets. Now the company is on the brink of a milestone that will bring it a big step closer. 

The stakes for space X are huge. Proving that SpaceX can safely fly humans is key to the company’s ambitions for space tourism and creating a human colony on Mars. A successful launch will be critical in persuading any doubters.

While a major milestone for a private company is underway, SpaceX’s most significant achievement has been in lowering the launch costs that have limited space exploration. When the space shuttle was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kilograms for $1.5 billion, or $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the rocket used to access the ISS, the cost is just $2,720 per kilogram.

Moreover, the company has shaken up the stodgy aerospace industry by designing rockets for rapid reusability. The engine and rocket modifications made by Space X has allowed the possibility of using rockets multiple times, ultimately cutting costs per flight.

The Coversation reports that in 2012, the Dragon capsule became the first privately funded spacecraft to dock with the ISS. SpaceX has since focused on recovering key parts of the Falcon 9 to enhance reusability and reduce costs. This includes the Falcon 9’s first stage which, once it expends its fuel, falls back through the atmosphere reaching speeds of 5,200 miles per hour before reigniting its engines to land on a drone recovery ship.

In 2018 alone, SpaceX made 21 successful launches. The new Falcon Heavy rocket – a more powerful version of the Falcon 9 – launched in February. This rocket can lift 63,800 kilograms, equivalent to more than 27 Asian elephants, to low Earth orbit and 16,800 kilograms to Mars for just $90 million. The test payload was Musk’s own red Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin named Starman in the driver’s seat.

In addition to the crewed Dragon tests this year, SpaceX is continuing development of its Starship, which will be designed to travel through the solar system and carry up to 100 passengers sometime in the 2020s. Musk has also suggested that the Starship could serve as the foundation for a lunar base.

Although, SpaceX is not the only private company providing launch services – Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are also players.

Meanwhile, Boeing—another company granted by NASA for the Commercial Crew Program, is building a spacecraft called the CST-100 Starliner, which launches on Atlas V rockets and aims to make its debut uncrewed test in April.

The first Crew Dragon to carry people is due to launch in July, and the astronauts who will fly that Demo-2 mission — Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley —  will be watching the Demo-1 flight from its launch control center.

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