Crew Dragon- The first commercial vehicle to take astronauts to the International Space Station

Text: Kaido Einama Photos: SpaceX Published: 22/07/2019

UP TO NOW, space discovery has been something big countries and their trained astronauts do. Private entrepreneurs, with some exceptions, have not been able to leave the Earth's atmosphere. SpaceX, created by Elon Musk, is one of the first module types to have left our planet's atmosphere behind several times, and now they are preparing to carry people for the first time.

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Commercial space flights have been a dream for decades, but so far they have not been possible due to lack of money and technical problems. The SpaceX Falcon launchers have also had many setbacks with in-flight explosions or engine failures before the launch, but now with the great Falcon 9 launcher, things are reliable enough to take people on board soon. SpaceX began developing its launchers secretly, and after 18 months of construction the launchers were introduced as a surprise to the public, offering the US space agency NASA the opportunity to deliver a transport capsule to the International Space Station- the ISS. At that time the capsule had not yet been created. Although the first flights were supposed to take place already in 2008/2009, they were postponed for years due to technical obstacles. Falcon 9 launched on 22nd May 2012 and reached the space station three days later. Before the approach, there was a problem with the laser navigator, which was unable to estimate the docking distance correctly, but the space station team helped to recalibrate the capsule and the docking was successful thanks to a robotic arm that pulled the capsule in. With the help of a robotic arm, Falcon 9 launchers have transported Dragon transport capsules for years. Another important additional capability was the safe return of goods to Earth. Thus, for example, blood and urine samples of astronauts could be brought to Earth.

"The SpaceX- NASA agreement also provided transport for people in a commercial travel capsule. To do this, a new module- Crew Dragon- was created to support life and be functional. It has seats for seven people and all the necessary amenities. Inside, the space capsule looks like a futuristic business-class aeroplane."

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The first flight took place on 2nd March 2019, initially without living beings. Instead a human model sat in the salon of the module in a genuine astronaut suit, equipped with of all kinds of sensors and cameras, to collect flight data. More innovatively than before, the capsule docked with the space station, not via a robotic arm, but completely independently. After harmonising the environments, two space station residents entered the capsule to check its condition. The whole flight was broadcast live on Earth with NASA's help, so that everyone could see how the space capsule, which will be carrying humans in the future, arrived at the space station and returned to Earth. Back on Earth, a transporter was awaiting the reusable capsule in the Atlantic Ocean. Its purpose was to get to the landing site within an hour, because some frozen samples needed to be picked up urgently.

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As a result of the tests, SpaceX will be the first module granted permission to transport people into space. It also means that we are a step closer to the first commercial space flights, to orbit the Earth or go even farther. Even some Estonians have already signed up for the flights. SpaceX and Elon Musk are also planning to fly to Mars in the distant future- initially with experimental space capsules. If everything succeeds, there are also going to be flights to Mars with people on board, who unfortunately would not be able to come back to Earth, at least not initially.