This Sunday, SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station, heralding a new, commercial era of spaceflight.
In the past, space travel was an exclusive realm within government, but as the first operational flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft set out into orbit last night, the balance of power shifted. Soon, anyone with enough money can buy a ticket on a commercial rocket.
“This is truly a commercial launch vehicle,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a post-launch news conference, “and we’re grateful to our partners at SpaceX for providing it.” Watch the launch below.
Last week, SpaceX completed its certification process, receiving NASA's seal of approval confirming Elon Musk's company has met the specifications set out for regularly taking NASA astronauts to orbit. According to the BBC, SpaceX has signed contracts with NASA valued in excess of $3 billion to develop, test, and fly an astronaut taxi service.
Set to dock at the orbiting platform this evening, it will take just over a day for the Crew Dragon spacecraft to reach the station. Once there, the four crew members — three from NASA, one from Japanese space agency JAXA — will join three others already working on the space station.
The astronauts will be contributing to two decades of research. Right now, they're collecting biological samples to help scientists on earth study how dietary changes affect the body. Additionally, they'll be growing radishes, the latest experiment to explore whether food can be grown in space.