We Have Liftoff!
Those three words make up the most exciting and looked forward to declaration by SpaceX since the days of NASA space exploration. After more than nine years since NASA retired all three of their Space Shuttles, men, women, boys, and girls from coast to coast and around the world watched in eager anticipation as the SpaceX rocket stood silhouetted against the sky. Would the weather cooperate? Would Saturday’s launch go without a hitch?
Travelers on the road turned up their radios to hear the broadcast as clearly as possible. People at home and in restaurants sat mesmerized in front of their cellphones, laptops, and TV screens. They all waited to witness one of the most historic events since the 1969 moon landing. This would be the beginning of a new era.
“We are T-minus 60 seconds to launch.”
At-home spectators inched closer to their screens. This historical moment must not be viewed but lived and experienced.
“And 10 seconds to launch.”
The crowd holds their breath, awaiting final countdown. Then finally…
“4…3…2…1… Solid rocket booster ignition and liftoff!”
Crowds across the globe cheered and shouted, praising the SpaceX team for a successful launch even while watching the rocket as it continued its upward flight into low orbit. A sense of celebration and excitement filled each person who witnessed the momentous occasion.
A Flawless Launch
The launch was flawless. Breathtaking! And filled with thoughts of endless possibilities and limitless potential. The first-ever commercial rocket was headed to the International Space Station! Now, it’s only a matter of time before they launch again, and this time to the moon. Then to Mars! Perhaps even someone YOU know will be on the next shuttle out to outer space.
By the time Falcon 9 launched Crew Dragon for their second demonstration mission on May 30, 2020, SpaceX had proven themselves through extensive trial and error, failed launch attempts, failed landing attempts, and failed everything in-between.
It was Thomas Edison that said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Much in the same vein, SpaceX discovered through failure how to launch the largest rocket ever created for a fraction of the cost.
Image from SpaceX company launch party in 2002 when launching astronauts was just an idea!
Elon Musk, the man with a mission and a vision of someday inhabiting Mars, founded SpaceX back in 2002. From that time, SpaceX has launched an unbelievable 93 missions! Nearly all of them have been perfect successes. But that’s now how the SpaceX program started.
In 2006, SpaceX launched its first rocket. Unfortunately, the engine failed only twenty-five seconds after liftoff. The entire rocket was lost. This would be the first of five failures out of 93 missions. Those five, however, nearly brought SpaceX to its knees.
One year later, they experienced a second failed mission. At this point, things weren’t looking good for the SpaceX program.
Elon Musk and the SpaceX program pressed on, and after yet another failed attempt, Falcon 1 launched successfully on September 28, 2008.
By 2012, a Dragon capsule successfully docked with the International Space Station, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to accomplish this feat. It carried supplies and food for the crew.
2015 was a ground-breaking year for Elon’s vision of creating a “rapidly reusable orbital rocket.” In his words, he wants a rocket to take off, fly, return, land, repeat. This was the year a Falcon 9 rocket landed successfully after delivering commercial satellites to Earth’s orbit. For the first time, reusable rockets became a possibility.
This was the same year that SpaceX recorded its fourth failed mission.
In 2016, SpaceX dealt with a fifth failure during a routine launchpad test. The payload, a $200 million satellite, and the rocket were destroyed during the explosion.
The failures experienced by SpaceX nearly brought the program to its knees. The remaining twelve launches for 2016 were canceled.
Where failure exists, however, the possibility for success is born. Elon Musk and the entire SpaceX team learned from their failures, grew, and doubled down on building the best space program possible. While some might have thought the SpaceX program was done, Elon had other plans.
In 2017, SpaceX flew eighteen missions, all successes.
In 2018, they flew twenty-one missions, again, all successes.
By 2019, SpaceX hit its stride and marked one of their most successful launches to date. After the launch of Falcon Heavy, the boosters were returned to Earth and landed perfectly on their landing pads. Rapidly reusable orbital rockets were another step closer to complete reality.
Then you have May 30, 2020. On this historic date, Falcon 9’s payload was no mere satellite. This day, it was two NASA astronauts. This was THE day to return the United States to its position as a key player in space exploration, once more. And it was a wild success!
Image of Elon Musk jumping for joy after SpaceX becomes the first private company ever to successfully launched astronauts to the international space station in 2020.
After nearly three minutes of post-launch travel, all systems were still a go, and both astronauts were doing well. Some nineteen hours later, they docked at the International Space Station to begin their several month-long stay.
What’s next, you ask? Elon’s goals for the future are nothing less than establishing a base on the moon, then shuttling people to Mars! His humor-filled words sum it up quite nicely. “Mars could help Earth one day… I would like to die on Mars. Just not on impact.”
The future looks very bright for this young SpaceX as it finally enters into adulthood at 18 years old. This is only the beginning!