SpaceX is entrepreneur Elon Musk’s space exploration venture. It has now become the first private company to send astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken into space. Where are they going? To the International Space Station. The astronauts have completed two such trips before so knew what to expect and what to watch out for. They also named their rocket capsule – capsule Endeavour.
Why is this a big deal? Before this, only governments – those of the USA, Russia, and China were able to send astronauts into space. The US government has piggybacked on Russia’s rockets over the past 9 years when it shut down its space shuttle program and it gave money to fund SpaceX and Boeing rockets. Its astronauts have left the earth on American rockets for the first time in 9 years. America is hailing this as their entry into the new space age.
It is also a big deal for SpaceX. While the group has sent rockets into space for at least the past 10 years (one with a cherry red Tesla car on it!), this is the first time that the company has sent people into space. And they get paid money for it. Elon Musk has been developing reusable rockets and has been trying to reduce the cost of each launch. The New Scientist magazine says that the 2011 expense of launching a rocket into orbit today would be $1.8 billion (that’s super expensive for each flight!), but that Elon Musk has been able to reduce the cost of each launch so considerably that SpaceX is charging NASA $55 million. So it’s kind of like a space taxi that NASA astronauts can take into orbit.
That’s cool! What kind of rocket did they travel on? The Crew Dragon spacecraft. It took 9 minutes for them to reach orbit, and another 19 hours to reach the ISS.
SpaceX’ rockets are reusable. So this one has returned to the earth and will be used again.
Why did they call the capsule ‘Endeavour’? To honour the commitment and huge effort that NASA and SpaceX have made to get astronauts on an American rocket. Both astronauts also completed their first space flights on Shuttle Endeavour, so named this capsule after that.
What else flew on the Dragon rocket with the astronauts? A dinosaur stuffed toy!
Why on earth would they take that? Reports say that it is common for astronauts to take a stuffed toy on board, because these are effective ‘zero-g indicators’. In other words, they start floating when they reach zero gravity or weightlessness, and are a useful visual indicator for the astronauts who are securely buckled into their seats.
Why a dinosaur? Well, both astronauts have sons who love dinosaurs, and the astronauts said that they picked one toy from the combined collection to accompany them on their voyage. So that may be it. Or, it could also be because Doug Hurley’s wife, Karen, is also an astronaut, and she apparently sewed a stuffed dinosaur toy for her son out of a t-shirt and linings from food wrappers on her last trip into space, so this could be a nod to that effort!
Got it! Who else is in the race to get humans into space? Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are some of the other private efforts to further space exploration and tourism.
Written by: Sunaina Murthy