Posted on June 1, 2020, 1:16 PM IST
On Sunday night, two American astronauts flew to the International Space Station, the world’s only space-based laboratory, located about 400 km from the earth, in a journey that has been undertaken hundreds of times earlier. The event generated tremendous excitement around the globe, not because of any special technological achievement but because of the agency that facilitated the trip. It was the first time that astronauts used a spaceship built and launched by a private company, and the event is being widely seen as the beginning of a new era in space exploration.
Two NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, flew onboard a spaceship named Crew Dragon built by SpaceX, a company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk who also heads Tesla Motors which produces new-age automobiles.
The rocket, named Falcon 9, which carried the spaceship into the orbit, was also built by SpaceX. The Florida launch facility used for the flight still belonged to NASA, however, and had previously been used to launch American spaceships including the Apollo missions that took human beings to moon. The mission was called Demo-2, in keeping with the fact that it was still only a ‘test flight’, which if successful, would lead to more missions in the coming months. For NASA, it was the first flight of its astronauts on an American spaceship, launched on American soil, after nine years.
Sunday’s SpaceX flight therefore is a culmination of more than decade-long efforts to free to enable private players build and operate what essentially is a commercial taxi-service to space, and allow NASA to concentrate on deep space exploration, and work more vigorously towards taking humans to moon, and Mars, and, possibly, on some asteroid, in between.