What is the SpaceX mission?
Today we witnessed a historic event as the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT on the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
On a fundamental level, it means that the U.S. will gain access to the International Space Station without having to rely on buying tickets aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Saving the U.S. $30 million per seat (SpaceX's relatively low price of $56 million per seat compared to the $86 million per seat aboard the Soyuz spacecraft). It also means the beginning of a new era for the commercial space industry – one in which private companies and individuals buying tickets for passenger trips to space is closer to reality.
With this mission, SpaceX will complete the final step required by NASA to human-rate its Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, which means it can begin operationally transporting people from Earth essentially as soon as this mission concludes (Crew Dragon still has to rendezvous with the space station, and make its way back to Earth with astronauts on board).
SpaceX has already signed an agreement with Space Adventures, a private space tourism booking company that has previously worked with Roscosmos on sending private astronauts to orbit. SpaceX wants to start sending up paying tourists on orbital flights (without any ISS stops) starting as early as next year aboard Crew Dragon. The capsule supports up to seven passengers per flight, though only four seats will ever be used for official NASA crew delivery missions for the space station. SpaceX hasn’t released pricing on private trips aboard the aircraft, but a Falcon 9 launch (without a human-rated capsule) costs around $60 million.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of revolutionizing space technology and reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars and further explore space. SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles as well as the Cargo Dragon and Crew Dragon spacecrafts.
In preparation for the Demo-2 launch, SpaceX completed a number of major benchmarks for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. In March 2019, SpaceX completed Crew Dragon’s first demonstration mission to and from the International Space Station—an end-to-end test flight of Crew Dragon without astronauts onboard—making Crew Dragon the first American spacecraft to autonomously dock with the International Space Station and safely return to Earth.
SpaceX has gained worldwide attention for a series of historic milestones. It is the only private company capable of returning a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit. While most rockets are designed to burn up on reentry, SpaceX rockets can not only withstand reentry but can also successfully land back on Earth and refly again. In 2012 the Cargo Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to and from the International Space Station.
Today's launch marked the first human spaceflight from U.S. soil with NASA astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft since 2011. SpaceX is returning human spaceflight to the United States with one of the safest, most advanced systems ever built, and NASA’s Commercial Crew Program is a turning point for America’s future in space exploration that lays the groundwork for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.