With today’s SpaceX launch, SpaceX and NASA have successfully completed the PINNACLE MOMENT of what was imagined long ago at the onset of the Commercial Crew Program. Launching astronauts from American soil using a privately owned company! It’s an amazing achievement for NASA, SpaceX, and the United States. But for me – as a space geek & photographer – this is the beginning of bringing space travel to the common man! When private companies can succeed in launching into space, docking at the space station, and safely bringing humans into orbit, the cost and accessibility of adventures like this for ME are becoming possible in my lifetime! With this milestone reached, my dream of capturing the Milky Way from space is now absolutely possible before I die!

American Astronauts in American Rockets from American Soil! Showing you what Americans can do when we Come together as a team! 

-Retired NASA Astronaut Leland Melvin

SpaceX Launch Experience

I started with the NASA Live Stream but discovered that the SpaceX launch Live Stream was a few seconds AHEAD of the NASA stream so I jumped to the SpaceX one so I could see the SpaceX launch event as LIVE as I possibly could!

I didn’t want to be one of the suckers watching what happened 10 seconds ago! No Way!

When I joined that stream, there were about 800K watching the hour leading up to the launch. But by the time of launch, there were 4 million viewers of the SpaceX stream alone! And there were countless other live streams with their own million or so viewers! AWESOME!

Other than the SpaceX Launch itself, the other moment of success is when the Main Engine returns to Earth and HOPEFULLY lands safely on the SpaceX autonomous spaceport drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You.” Like has happened in ALL the drone ship landing events I have watched… there was SIGNAL LOSS!

Should be renamed “Of Course I Lost Signaled Again” Drone Ship!

Despite how anti-climactic it is to miss out on seeing it land, there’s still a lot of cheering and excitement when the dust settles, and the signal returns to a view like this:

Whew! 10-15 MILLION DOLLARS has returned!

Now with the Launch Success behind us, the MECO or Main Engine Cut Off Success without incident, and returning the rocket home successfully, the mission begins!

On the way to dock with the International Space Station, the Dragon capsule will run a few manual flight tests with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in control. Then, it is just hours spent catching up to the ISS, eating, and sleeping. Bob and Doug will get 8-hours for sleep during the 19-hour trip, and tomorrow morning (Sunday, May 31st), we get a chance to see them docking at the ISS and one-half of the mission will be roughly complete!

The Long & Expensive Road

Ever since the end of the Shuttle program back in 2011, we have been paying Russia to fly our astronauts to the International Space Station on the Soyuz spacecraft. Until today.

Nine years doesn’t sound that bad until you realize how EXPENSIVE it has been to fly our Astronauts using the Russians. Putin and comrades have NOT made it easy for NASA and the US to budget these flights as they regularly raised the price!

In a 2016 Business Insider article, you can see how Russia continually raised the cost per person to ride the Soyuz to the ISS and back again. “- a cost increase of 372% in 10 years.”

SpaceDaily.com states, “As of July 2019, NASA had purchased 70 Soyuz seats worth $3.9 billion to ferry 70 U.S. and partner astronauts to and from the [International Space] Station.” By November 2019, SpaceDaily.com reported that the US had paid nearly $4 BILLION!

SpaceX Dragon Capsule

Aboard the Dragon Capsule, Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley look at digital screens with touch controls versus the circus of knobs and buttons from the Apollo mission.

Talking with my buddy and managing editor of MilkyWayPhotographers.com Kirk Keyes, he commented about how boring modern-day consoles are compared to the era of his youth. Check out the differences in the images below, Dragon on the left and Apollo on the right.

Kirk may have a good point!

Yeah, now that I look at both of these side-by-side, Kirk is right!

What do we do while we wait for them to reach the ISS?

SpaceX has created a simulator game where you can play around with the ACTUAL INTERFACE of the Dragon 2 capsule and simulate docking with the ISS. Hopefully, you will avoid destroying the space capsule, the ISS, and killing everyone on board!

Check out the simulator here: https://iss-sim.spacex.com/

SpaceX Simulator where you can test out the ACTUAL INTERFACE of the Dragon 2 Manual Controls & try to dock at the ISS!

Docking at the ISS complete!

I set my alarm for 7:50 am Mountain Time, so I could resume watching the Live Stream when the Dragon was completing its final approach to the International Space Station.

Watching the slow, slow, approach of a careful vehicle docking at the thin and fragile ISS is not something to do when you are waking up. Let’s just say I kept enjoying my pillow in between check-ins to my iPad to see how much closer the Dragon got to the ISS. It was hard trying to not fall asleep again!

I mean, imagine watching this go from 100 yards away to this close all at the pace of a snail crossing the sidewalk. It was hard to stay awake!

While the white Dragon capsule on black background footage moments were hard to stay awake for, there were amazing views from the ISS that had the Dragon in front of the Earth, and it looked amazing! It really puts things into perspective!

DOCKED! Awesome view of the Dragon Capsule against the black of space, curve of the Earth in the distance and the Solar Arrays of the ISS.

If I thought the docking process was slow up until the connection with the ISS, the wait for Bob and Doug to disembark and finally enter the ISS came nearly TWO HOURS LATER! Spent a lot of time hearing about water bottles in inventory, clothing configurations, and watching the lone American onboard the ISS set up a lot of cameras, including a 360-degree camera in anticipation of seeing Bob and Doug enter the ISS.

But the moment FINALLY came and another checkmark next to a huge mission milestone for SpaceX!

WOOHOO! Made it! So awesome to see them safely at the International Space Station and celebrate the success of this awesome SpaceX launch!


Aaron King