On Sunday, SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on the first full-fledged taxi flight for NASA by a private company. The Falcon rocket thundered into the night from Kennedy Space Center with three Americans and one Japanese, the second crew to be launched by SpaceX.
The Dragon capsule on top — named Resilience by its crew in light of this year’s many challenges, most notably COVID-19 — was due to reach the space station late Monday and remain there until spring. The launch event was attended by Vice President Mike Pence and his wife as well as NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
After the launch, United States President Donald Trump took to Twitter and congratulated the space agency. However, he ended up taking the credit for NASA's success. "A great launch! NASA was a closed up disaster when we took over. Now it is again the “hottest”, most advanced, space centre in the world, by far!" he said. This 'self-congratulated' tweet by Trump has irked several social media users.
Sidelined by the virus himself, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk was forced to monitor the action from afar, reported the Associated Press. He tweeted that he “most likely” had a moderate case of COVID-19. NASA policy at Kennedy Space Center requires anyone testing positive for Coronavirus to quarantine and remain isolated.
♥️— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 16, 2020
Sunday’s launch follows by just a few months SpaceX’s two-pilot test flight. It kicks off what NASA hopes will be a long series of crew rotations between the U.S. and the space station, after years of delay.
With COVID-19 still surging, NASA continued the safety precautions put in place for SpaceX’s crew launch in May. The astronauts went into quarantine with their families in October. All launch personnel wore masks, and the number of guests at Kennedy was limited. Even the two astronauts on the first SpaceX crew flight stayed behind at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The four astronauts will be joining two Russians and one American who flew to the space station last month from Kazakhstan. The space station soared over the launch site a mere half-minute before liftoff.
(With agency inputs)