Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is about to launch its space vehicle – the Crew Dragon – with astronauts onboard for the first time. Here, we answer some common questions about the mission.
Why is a private company launching Nasa astronauts?
Nasa has been planning to hand over the transport of crew to the International Space Station (ISS) since the early 2000s. After the Columbia space shuttle broke up during its return to Earth in 2003, the space agency focused on developing a replacement spaceship that could travel to the Moon. Involving private firms in the transfer of crew and cargo to the ISS was a necessary step to afford that programme. In 2014, entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX and aerospace giant Boeing were announced as winners of a Nasa contract for crew transport services. SpaceX is launching its spacecraft first; the Crew Dragon spacecraft will lift off on Wednesday atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
What is SpaceX?
SpaceX is an American company that provides commercial and government launch services on its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Entrepreneur Elon Musk founded the company in 2002, with the goal of reducing space transportation costs, enabling the colonisation of Mars. SpaceX was the first private company to routinely return rocket stages to Earth under propulsive power so they could be re-flown rather than being discarded. It has been conducting regular flights of cargo to the ISS, and will now aim to begin launching astronauts. Musk’s company is also developing a bigger spacecraft to carry humans – called Starship – which could begin the process of settling Mars.
Who is Elon Musk?
Born in South Africa, Elon Musk made more than $160m from the sale of online payment service PayPal to eBay. His desire to see humanity become a true space-faring civilisation was