Russia mocked the United States for its “hysteria” after astronauts of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration entered the International Space Station from SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft on Sunday, after a historic launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch ended Russia’s nine-year monopoly over travel to the space station, and SpaceX became the first private company to send humans into space.
Russian space agency Roscosmos, while congratulating the United States, expressed bewilderment at the “hysteria” around the launch, AFP reported. “We don’t really understand the hysteria sparked by the successful launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft,” Roscosmos Spokesperson Vladimir Ustimenko said. “What should have happened a long time ago happened.”
Bob Behnken, 49, and Doug Hurley, 53, were welcomed aboard the space station, where they became members of the Expedition 63 crew, PTI reported. The docking of the spacecraft took place 19 hours after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center. The astronauts had taken off at 3.22 pm EDT on Saturday (12.52 am Indian Standard Time on Sunday).
“This is the first time in human history @NASA_Astronauts have entered the @Space_Station from a commercially-made spacecraft,” Nasa tweeted. “@AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug have finally arrived to the orbiting laboratory in @SpaceX’s Dragon Endeavour spacecraft.”
With the liftoff, Elon Musk-owned SpaceX became the first private company to put people into orbit. This feat has previously been achieved only by the governments of the United States, Russia and China.
“Today a new era in human spaceflight begins as we once again launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on their way to the International Space Station, our national lab orbiting Earth,” Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “I thank and congratulate Bob Behnken, Doug Hurley, and the SpaceX and Nasa teams for this significant achievement for the United States.”
United States President Donald Trump spoke with Musk, and called him “one of the great brains”. “The SpaceX Dragon Capsule has successfully reached low Earth orbit, and our astronauts are safe and sound!” Trump said, according to the White House. “Past leaders put the United States at the mercy of foreign nations to send our astronauts into orbit. Not any more.”
The White House said that the launch “marks a commitment to a brighter future for all of our citizens on Earth”.
Musk took potshots at Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin, who had said in the past that the United States may be forced to “deliver its astronauts to the International Space Station by using a trampoline”. “The trampoline is working,” Musk said at a post-flight press conference according to AFP.
In 2014, Rogozin, who was then the deputy prime minister of Russia, had mocked the United States’ inability to pursue a manned space flight programme, after Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow, including on some space industries. However, on Sunday, Rogozin tweeted: “It’s safe to congratulate you at this point with a successful launch and docking. Bravo! Please convey my sincere greetings to @elonmusk (I loved his joke) and @SpaceX team. Looking forward to further cooperation!”
The Indian Space Research Organisation congratulated Nasa and SpaceX for the successful launch. “Congratulations to #NASA and #SpaceX for historic first launch of manned mission after 2011. Great job !” ISRO tweeted.
The launch was initially scheduled for May 27 but was postponed due to bad weather. The United States has not launched its own astronauts into space since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. Since then, Nasa has had to pay Russia for its Soyuz rockets to take American astronauts to space. It paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips.