On November 14, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying a crew of four people to the International Space Station (ISS) on a six-month-long mission.
Significantly, just ahead of the mission, NASA certified SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket, making it the first spacecraft certification provided by the space agency. This means SpaceX can now operate regular flights to the space station.
Boeing and SpaceX were selected by NASA in September 2014 to develop transportation systems meant to transfer crew from the US to the ISS. “These integrated spacecraft, rockets and associated systems will carry up to four astronauts on NASA missions, maintaining a space station crew of seven to maximize time dedicated to scientific research on the orbiting laboratory,” the NASA website says.
Earlier in May, NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight lifted off for the ISS, becoming the first crewed flight to launch from American soil since the conclusion of the space shuttle era in 2011.
The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, whose objective is to make access to space easier in terms of its cost, so that cargo and crew can be easily transported to and from the ISS, enabling greater scientific research.
The Crew-1 mission will launch the agency’s astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) mission specialist Soichi Noguchi from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. At the ISS, the crew will join the members of Expedition 64, the space station crew currently in residence at the ISS.
Significantly, Crew-1 will be the first operational flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket to the ISS and is the first of the three scheduled flights scheduled over the course of 2020-2021.
The goals of the mission are the same as that of Expedition 1 that lifted off 20 years ago. NASA has called both of these ISS missions “historic”. At the ISS, the Crew-1 team will join members of Expedition 64 and conduct microgravity studies and deliver new science hardware and experiments that they will carry with them to space aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Some of the research that the crew is carrying with themselves includes materials to investigate food physiology, which will study the effects of dietary improvements on immune function and the gut microbiome and how those improvements can help crews adapt to spaceflight. Once in orbit, NASA astronaut Glover will collect samples to provide data to scientists back on Earth so that they can continue to study how dietary changes affect his body.
Another experiment aboard the Crew Dragon is a student-designed experiment titled, “Genes in Space-7” that aims to understand how spaceflight affects brain function.
Other experiments include research that will enable scientists to understand the physical interactions of liquid, rocks and microorganisms, experiment on the role of microgravity on human health and another on how microgravity affects heart tissue.
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