SpaceX crew capsule marks a new chapter in space travel

  • In this image taken from NASA Television, SpaceX's new crew capsule undocks from the International Space Station on March 8.

    In this image taken from NASA Television, SpaceX's new crew capsule undocks from the International Space Station on March 8. Associated Press/NASA

 
Updated 4/2/2019 6:27 AM

"How do spaceships work?" asked a young patron from the Wauconda Area Library.

Just a few weeks ago, the SpaceX Crew Dragon space capsule roared into space from its launchpad in Florida on a passenger-free mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This first commercial spaceship is designed to launch 10 times with passengers and cargo. The flyway, a round-trip journey with the first stop at the ISS 200 miles above the Earth's atmosphere and the last stop a splashdown in the ocean, is the first space destination for the commercial carrier.

Future plans are for commercial spaceships to take passengers around the moon.

Crew Dragon will welcome two NASA astronauts on board in July for its first Earth-to-ISS passenger flight.

Crew Dragon looks slightly different from the SpaceX Dragon space capsule, which carries only cargo. The seven-passenger pressurized Crew Dragon capsule features three large windows. It's powered by reusable Falcon rockets that are stocked with kerosene-based Rocket Propellant -1 fuel and liquid oxygen.

At launch, the 16-story two-stage rockets push the space vehicle into the upper reaches of the Earth's atmosphere. About two-and-a-half minutes later, the first stage tears away and falls back to Earth, parachuting into the ocean near a boat designated to collect it.

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These rockets will be reused in future launches. The upper stage of the rocket keeps the space capsule speeding through the Earth's atmosphere, and about nine minutes later, the job is done and Stage 2 detaches.

The Crew Dragon continues its ascent, traveling 17,000 mph.

In order to dock at the ISS, the Crew Dragon uses Draco thrusters to align its nose cone with the ISS docking port. Crew Dragon remained docked for about five days, then detached and made its way back to Earth. Four parachutes slowed the capsule as it belly flopped into the Atlantic Ocean.

The space capsule incorporates features to keep passengers and cargo safe. It includes environmental controls, a life support system and special SuperDraco rockets used only in an emergency.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon is making the dream of affordable space flight a reality with its reusable rockets and passenger capsule. Look for NASA's live video footage of the historic passenger launch planned for July.

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