MASS Watch Party for 2nd Launch Attempt of DM2 on May 30, 2020

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. - Carl Sagan

MASS Watch Party for 2nd Launch Attempt of DM2 on May 30, 2020

We did it! The US launched 2 astronauts from Florida on a SpaceX Dragon2 capsule! Weather was iffy but it seemed like the clouds opened up and provided an opportunity at the 2:22 PM launch time. Dean, Keith, Hank, Phil and I were all “zoomed” in to share the event. The 1 minute discrepancy among our video feeds of the launch made for some interesting dynamics but we all cheered as the Falcon9 rocket rose from the pad.

Myself, Keith, Dean, Hank and Phil Zooming for the launch of DM2

I learned that the astronauts carried a small dinosaur toy, named “Tremor” as their zero-G indicator. This is a tradition that the Russians have during their Soyuz launches. As a good luck charm, I brought out my stuffed dragon, “Figment”, that the family purchased from Disney World about 35 years ago. With the fact that weather was only 40% “go” early on, I might have to make Figment a staple on future launches. The astronauts also said that they will retrieve the stuffed toy, “Little Earth” that went up to the ISS on the DM1 unmanned Dragon2 launch in January 2019. Another item to be retrieved, is the American flag that flew on the first and last Shuttle flights. After the last Shuttle left the ISS, the flag was to remain until astronauts launched from US soil retrieved it. NASA plans to fly the flag on the upcoming Artemis 2 mission that will have an Orion capsule circle the moon.

I bought Figment 35 years ago at Disney World, glad to see a Dragon brimg good luck to SpaceX and NASA

SpaceX and Boeing both were in a competition to retrieve the flag. Originally in 2011 under President Obama, there were 4 companies vying for NASA contracts to fly crew to the ISS. Blue Origin with New Shepard and Sierra Nevada with DreamChaser were both de-selected in 2014. When SpaceX was awarded the contract for a manned Dragon capsule, they tweeted, “SpaceX commencing flag capturing sequence.” I hope within a couple of months when Dragon splashes down, we get another tweet from SpaceX that says “Completing flag capturing sequence.” Here is Tremor meeting Little Earth and the flag on ISS.

On the next day after launch, May 31, the Dragon2 capsule, which the astronauts named Endeavour, docked autonomously to the ISS and bought the crew up to 5, 2 Russians and 3 Americans. We have been waiting at least 3250 days (almost 9 years) for this event since the last launch of the Space Shuttle on July 8, 2011. Our MASS Prizes will soon be awarded. Sophia wins the original prize and Hank wins the last round of guesses by missing the date by only 2 days.

Using the name, Endeavour, for their spacecraft, the astronauts went “old school”. That name was used for one of the Space Shuttles and also the Apollo 15 command module that orbited the moon during the 4th lunar landing in 1971.

It is a little sad that the pandemic and now looting and vandalism, have stolen just about the entire news cycle. It makes me remember, as a graduating senior at Cudahy High School in Wisconsin, my physics teacher helped me win a National Science Foundation award to attend the Hayden Planetarium in Manhattan, New York for 6 weeks. While I was there during the summer of 1967, riots were occurring back in Milwaukee and across the river from Manhattan in Newark, New Jersey. It was an unsettled time for an 18 year old on his own in the big city.

Back to the Dragon2 capsule, I was glad to hear that it can accommodate astronauts up to 6 ft 8 in. So I guess that it won’t be my 6 ft. 7 in. frame preventing me from going into space. But I’m a little concerned that at $10,000/lb, it’ll take over $3 million in launch costs to get me up there. The year 2020 was to be the year that many methods of getting people into space might start. The Russians have kept launching their 3 man Soyuz capsules. The Chinese have just launched their first new manned capsule on an unmanned test mission. Blue Origin (New Sheppard) and Virgin Galactic (SpaceShip2) will soon be launching space tourists on short sub-orbital missions. Boeing is scheduled to perform another unmanned test of their Starliner capsule in Oct 2020. Early in 2021, they will send 3 astronauts from NASA to the ISS as the other Commercial Crew company. NASA is still developing their Orion capsule that will take people to the moon soon. Finally, India is developing a manned space capsule.The pandemic might have prevented 2020 from being the boom year for people in space but who knows what the next couple of years will bring. Here is an assessment of the spacecraft from the US.

It was a little bad timing for SpaceX that their new prototype vehicle, StarShip SN04, explode down in Boca Chica, TX from a methane leak on May 30. There was a test fire of the Raptor engine on the vehicle. Then a minute or so after the shutdown of the engine, it appeared that the bottom of the vehicle ruptured. A large amount of methane leaked out and eventually exploded destroying the vehicle. SpaceX already has, SN05, SN06 and SN07 prototypes under construction. SpaceX has never been afraid to fail but I don’t think these explosions are making the early fliers on StarShip very comfortable.

NASA has already picked a date for the first operational Dragon2 to the ISS. They are scheduling Aug 30, 2020 as the day for launching 4 astronauts on the CREW1 mission. NASA has said they need a least a month after DM2 returns to Earth to certify Dragon2 for fully operational missions. That would mean DM2 would splash down around the end of July after 60 or so days on orbit. NASA has listed the DM2 mission as 30 to 119 days. 119 days is the time that the Dragon2 solar panels are certified for on orbit. Future Dragon2 capsules will be capable of staying 210 days attached to ISS.

Up next will be the launch of the Perseverance Mars rover on July 17, 2020. Get out your lucky JPL peanuts for the event. And, we can’t forget that the DM2 mission must successfully splashdown and be recovered in the Atlantic. My guess is that it will come down at the end of July.