While maybe not as thrilling as the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo moments at the dawn of the Space Age, these moments happening now shouldn’t be underappreciated.
On Sunday night, SpaceX launched four astronauts to the International Space Station.
It was a night of firsts — a flight of firsts:
• It was the first full mission for the crewed spacecraft. Three NASA astronauts — Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover — were on board, as was a Japanese astronaut, Soichi Noguchi. This also was the first time four astronauts flew into space in the same capsule. This flight is expected to be fully automated, by the way.
• It was the first privately owned and operated spacecraft to be approved by NASA for human spaceflight.
• It was the first launch from within the United States since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet nearly a decade ago.
The Associated Press reported that NASA hopes this will be the first in a series of flights allowing crew rotations between the U.S. and the space station, and that will mean more scientists doing research.
As all this is going on, Osiris-REx last month made contact with the asteroid Bennu and collected a sample that it will soon bring home, and the most sophisticated mission ever launched is more than halfway to Mars and scheduled to land in February.
Watching it brought back some of the excitement of those early days. And like those NASA flights going back 60 years now, it promises a new era for space exploration.