Does Elon Musk have the right stuff? Billionaire launches TODAY

Does Elon Musk have the right stuff? Marijuana-smoking billionaire will blast two astronauts into space TODAY in touch-screen SpaceX $4bn spaceship and designer spacesuits – as Trump and family watch from the launchpad

  • Veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will take a Tesla ride across Kennedy Space Center in their Hollywood-inspired ‘Starman’ suits and tap into their Falcon 9 rocket ship using a touch pad today
  • Falcon 9’s launch is scheduled for 4.33pm (8.33pm GMT) and if all goes to plan, SpaceX will become the first private company to put astronauts into orbit, achieved by just three countries – Russia, the US and China
  • President Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence will be at Kennedy to watch the first manned flight from US soil in nine years, with the weather looking 60 percent favorable, despite earlier fears of thunderstorms
  • The new Crew Dragon capsule will take off from Launch Pad 39A, the same from which Neil Armstrong and his Apollo crewmates left for their historic journey to the Moon 

Elon Musk today prepares to blast two astronauts into space in SpaceX’s $4 billion touch-screen spaceship, beginning a new era of privatised exploration.

Veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will take a Tesla ride across Kennedy Space Center in their Hollywood-inspired ‘Starman’ suits and tap into their Falcon 9 rocket ship using a touch pad.

The Falcon 9’s launch is scheduled for 4.33pm (8.33pm GMT) and if all goes to plan, SpaceX will become the first private company to put astronauts into orbit, something achieved by just three countries – Russia, the US and China. 

President Donald Trump and VP Mike Pence will be at Kennedy to watch the first manned flight from US soil in nine years, with the weather looking 60 percent favorable, despite earlier fears of thunderstorms.

The new Crew Dragon capsule will take off from Launch Pad 39A, the same from which Neil Armstrong and his Apollo crewmates left for their historic journey to the Moon.

Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, are former USAF pilots who both achieved the rank of colonel and they were accepted to the NASA astronaut class of 2020. Both have been to space twice, before NASA’s space shuttle was retired in 2011.  

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The ship stands at nearly 230ft tall and burns cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) to give the grunt to launch as much as 25 tons into a low orbit around Earth. After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are verified for full-thrust performance before the rocket is released for flight. Then, with thrust greater than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket to space, but unlike a 747 engine, the rocket’s thrust actually increases with altitude.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is named after the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, the number 9 refers to the nine Merlin engines which power the first stage of its flight; with another Merlin vacuum engine powering the second stage 

Veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken (pictured during training) will take a Tesla ride across Kennedy Space Center in their Hollywood-inspired ‘Starman’ suits and tap into their Falcon 9 rocket ship using a touch pad

Falcon 9 generates just over 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage to limit acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel. The Falcon 9 then releases the lower section of the rocket called ‘the booster,’ using a fully-pneumatic system, as opposed to traditional pyrotechnic systems. The remaining single Merlin vacuum engine then delivers the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS

Behnken, 49, (left) and Hurley, 53, are former USAF pilots who both achieved the rank of colonel and they were accepted to the NASA astronaut class of 2020. Both have been to space twice, before NASA’s space shuttle was retired in 2011.

The Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is named after the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, the number 9 refers to the nine Merlin engines which power the first stage of its flight; with another Merlin vacuum engine powering the second stage. 

The ship stands at nearly 230ft tall and burns cryogenic liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) to give the grunt to launch as much as 25 tons into a low orbit around Earth.  

After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are verified for full-thrust performance before the rocket is released for flight.

Then, with thrust greater than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket to space, but unlike a 747 engine, the rocket’s thrust actually increases with altitude.

Falcon 9 generates just over 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage to limit acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel. 

The SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule is shown above alongside its position on the Falcon 9 rocket

The SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Dragon capsule on top of the rocket, is raised onto Launch Pad 39-A Tuesday, May 26, 2020, at Cape Canaveral, Florida

The capsule is designed to carry seven crew and the the controls are centered around touch screens which are compatible with the gloves used by the astronauts in their space suits.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, May 25, 2020

The Falcon 9 then releases the lower section of the rocket called ‘the booster,’ using a fully-pneumatic system, as opposed to traditional pyrotechnic systems.

The remaining single Merlin vacuum engine then delivers the Crew Dragon capsule to the ISS.    

The Crew Dragon capsule, evolved from SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon capsule, sits at the nose of the rocket.

After the Falcon 9 launch, the lower section of the rocket called ‘the booster, will detach and fall back through Earth’s atmosphere. A SpaceX drone ship in the sea will then attempt to retrieve the multi-million dollar booster.   

The capsule is just under 27ft tall and 13ft wide and includes its own system of 16 small ‘Draco’ rocket engines for finer directional control in space and if necessary should it need to abort. Each Draco thruster is capable of generating 90 pounds of force in the vacuum of space.

It is designed to carry seven crew and the the controls are centered around touch screens which are compatible with the gloves used by the astronauts in their space suits. 

All of Falcon 9’s structures, engines, separation systems, ground systems, and most avionics were designed, manufactured, and tested in the United States by SpaceX. 

Pictured above is the rocket being prepared for launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is set for blast off at 21.30pm GMT with a 60 per cent chance of favourable conditions

The new Crew Dragon capsule will take off from Launch Pad 39A, the same from which Neil Armstrong and his Apollo crewmates left for their historic journey to the Moon 

The ‘Starman’ space suit

It is jointly designed by Jose Fernandez, a costume designer known for his work on the Marvel series and Tron: Legacy, and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. The concept was then reverse engineered by SpaceX engineers.

A mannequin called ‘Starman’ (named after David Bowie’s song) wore the space suit during the maiden launch of the Falcon Heavy (cargo ship) in February 2018. For the exhibition launch, the suit was not pressurized and carried no sensors.

Behnken and Hurley will don the tailor made suits which have been designed specifically for use in the Dragon capsule.

Bob Behnken in his spacesuit at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. The suits are made from ‘Nomex’ a fire retardant fabric similar to Kevlar. The helmets, which are 3D-printed, contain microphones and speakers.

These are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the ship and don’t provide protection against radiation.

However, the suit is suitable for a vacuum and can also protect the astronauts against rapid cabin depressurization through a tether at the thigh which has air and electronic connectors. The suits also provide the astronauts with their own custom air conditioning systems so they can stay cool or warm.

The suits are made from ‘Nomex’ a fire retardant fabric similar to Kevlar. The helmets, which are 3D-printed, contain microphones and speakers. 

Hurley in his spacesuit at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. These are IVA-type suits (intravehicular activity) meaning they are not suitable for use outside the ship and don’t provide protection against radiation.

Who is Elon Musk and what is SpaceX? 

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded in 2002 by the Marijuana-smoking tycoon and innovator, Elon Musk. Gradually, the 48-year-old has earned the trust of the planet’s largest space agency. 

By 2012, SpaceX had become the first private company to dock a cargo capsule at the ISS, resupplying the station regularly ever since. It charges NASA $62 million for a standard Falcon 9 trip.

In 2014, NASA ordered the next step: to transport its astronauts there, starting in 2017, by adapting the Dragon capsule.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded in 2002 by the Marijuana-smoking tycoon and innovator, Elon Musk. Gradually, the 48-year-old has earned the trust of the planet’s largest space agency.

Earlier this month Musk’s 32-year-old girlfriend, the singer Grimes, gave birth to a son they named X Æ A-Xii, and he has recently been urging his Twitter followers to ‘take the red pill.’

The Matrix reference, which has been re-appropriated by supporters of Donald Trump, earned Musk the praise of Trump’s children, Ivanka and Don Jr.

His bizarre Twitter rants have also put him on unclear legal footing of late. Stocks of his electric car company Tesla (founded in 2003) went into freefall at the beginning of the month after he tweeted: ‘Tesla stock price is too high imo.’

Afterwards $14billion was wiped from the company’s market capitalization and $3 billion from Musk’s net worth. 

Musk, who has been an outspoken opponent of coronavirus lockdown restrictions that have shuttered Tesla’s key factory in Fremont, California, is currently bound by a settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that required Tesla to put in place ‘controls and procedures’ to oversee the CEO’s tweets.   

Musk raised eyebrows when he appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience last year, where he accepted a marijuana blunt from the host and then puffed on it

Why is the US going private?  

‘SpaceX would not be here without NASA,’ said Musk last year, after a successful dress rehearsal without humans for the trip to the ISS.

The space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips. SpaceX has made its own contributions in excess of $500 million.

The development has experienced delays, explosions, and parachute problems – but even so SpaceX has beaten the aviation giant Boeing to the punch.

NASA is also paying Boeing to build its own capsule, the Starliner, which is still not ready.

The move by NASA to invest in privately-developed spacecraft — a more economic proposition than spending tens of billions of dollars developing such systems itself, as it had done for decades — was started under the presidency of George W. Bush for cargo, and later under Barack Obama for human flight.

The SpaceX Falcon 9, with Dragon crew capsule is serviced on Launch Pad 39-A on Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida

Photographers set up remote cameras as the SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Dragon crew capsule, is serviced on Launch Pad 39-A on Tuesday at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida

‘Some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree,’ Obama said in 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center.

At the time, there was immense hostility in Congress and NASA to the start-up’s claims of what it could achieve.

A decade on it is another president, Trump, who will attend Wednesday’s launch in Florida.

The Republican is trying to reaffirm American domination of space, militarily but also by having ordered a return to the Moon in 2024.

If NASA could entrust ‘low Earth orbit’ space travel to the private sector, it would free up dollars for its more distant missions.

‘We envision a future where low Earth orbit is entirely commercialized where NASA is one customer of many customers,’ said Jim Bridenstine, the agency’s administrator.

‘If we keep using American taxpayer dollars … we’ll never get to the Moon and on to Mars.’

It has rained a lot in Florida in recent days, and Cape Canaveral forecasters estimated Tuesday the risk of unfavourable weather on Wednesday at 40 percent.

The SpaceX Falcon 9, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of the rocket, sits on Launch Pad 39-A on Monday at Kennedy Space Center, Florida

If necessary, the flight will be postponed to Saturday.

Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but updated for the 21st century.

Touch screens have replaced switches. The interior is dominated by white, more subtle lighting.

It looks entirely different to the enormous space shuttles, huge winged vehicles that carried astronauts into space from US soil from 1981 to 2011.

‘We’re expecting a smooth ride but we’re expecting a loud ride,’ said Behnken, who, like Hurley, also flew in the shuttles twice.

Unlike the shuttles, one of which – the Challenger – exploded in 1986 after take-off, Dragon can eject in an emergency if the Falcon 9 rocket has a problem.

Crew Dragon will catch up with the station on Thursday at an altitude of 400 kilometers, and will probably remain docked there until August.

If it fulfils its mission and is certified safe, it will mean the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians for access to space: since 2011, the Russian Soyuz rockets were the only space taxis available.

Launches will become a regular occurrence in Florida again, with four astronauts aboard.

A Japanese astronaut is set to be on the following trip. NASA would like a Russian cosmonaut to join next.

Douglas Hurley (left) and Bob Behnken, wearing SpaceX spacesuits, are seen inside a Tesla car as they depart for Launch Complex 39A during a launch dress rehearsal on May 23, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida 

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