Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

15.30 31 May 2020


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Two astronauts on board an historic spaceflight have reached the International Space Station.

Yesterday a manned space flight took off from US soil for the first time in nine years.

It's the first manned mission for Elon Musk's company SpaceX, as well as the first time NASA has worked with a private company to get people to the space station.

The spacecraft docking with the ISS was an automatic and computer-guided process, meaning astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley did not have to control the procedure directly.

The Crew Dragon docked with the ISS just before 3:30pm Irish time, and the hatches between the Crew Dragon spacecraft and ISS will be opened later this afternoon.

'Critical day'

Space commentator Leo Enright spoke to Newstalk Breakfast with Susan Keogh about the launch.

He observed: "[The US] is a country in absolute turmoil, and this launch yesterday was a singular moment of unity for the country in a way that we have not seen since the moon landings, because of course they also took place at a time of rioting and chaos.

“This is important socially for what it could do to bring a very, very divided country together.”

Leo explained that today is a “critical day” for the astronauts, who don't yet know how long exactly they will be in space.

Mr Enright said: “This afternoon, the vehicle will automatically dock with the space station - the astronauts shouldn’t have to get involved at all.

“If that’s successful, if all goes well, they’ll go inside the space station - very important because it brings the number of crew members on the station back up to its proper level for doing science.

"Depending on how well today goes, NASA will decide how long the astronauts stay - it could be a couple of weeks, it could be a couple of months."

He noted this is a test mission, but one that could open up the 'very real possibility' for the beginning of commercial space travel.

The current mission is also being seen as a significant step in the efforts to achieve a manned mission to Mars - but Mr Enright thinks we may be waiting for a while before that happens.

He told Susan: “Elon Musk wants to do it tomorrow, but scientists - including Irish experts at the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies - are worried about the amount of radiation women and men would be exposed to on a journey to Mars, and on the surface of Mars.

“I’m afraid my guess is we’re still around 30 years away from a human mission to Mars, because of everything we have to do. We could do it tomorrow - we have the technology - but we couldn’t get people there safely and keep them there.”

Main image: In this photo released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Picture: Bill Ingalls / NASA via CNP

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