Since 2012, we at Take Back the Sky have been leading a grassroots effort to convince SpaceX to name the first of its manned space capsules after Serenity, the fictional spaceship from Joss Whedon’s science-fiction television series Firefly and feature film Serenity. Despite the fact that we’ve devoted a lot of space as of late (yes, the pun is intended) to covering the many launches that SpaceX has completed so far this year, we still think it’s important that we not lose sight of our raison d’être. To that end, here are ten good reasons why we believe the first manned SpaceX Dragon should be named Serenity…
SpaceX is set to launch yet another commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). A Falcon9 will carry an unmanned Dragon into the black from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:55pm EDT on Thursday evening, June 1 (If no attempt at a launch is possible during the instantaneous launch window, a backup launch window is set for Saturday, June 3 at 5:07pm EDT).
As is often the case with SpaceX launches, this one aims to make a bit of history. First off, it will be the 100th launch from LC-39A, which has been the site of myriad launches from the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs as well as more recent SpaceX launches. In addition, the Dragon space capsule being used to support the CRS-11 mission previously resupplied the International Space Station on SpaceX’s CRS-4 mission in September of 2014.
CRS-11 is the eleventh of up to twenty planned commercial resupply missions to the ISS by Elon Musk and company. This time around, the Dragon will carry almost 3 tons of supplies and payloads, including critical materials that are needed to support many of the more than 250 science experiments that will occur during ISS Expeditions 52 and 53. ISS crew members will use the station’s robotic “Canadarm2” to reach out and capture the Dragon spacecraft and attach it to the station on June 4. She’ll stay berthed to the station for approximately one month, at which time she’ll return to Earth laden with experiments and other materials being sent home from the ISS and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.
And when the Falcon9 breaks atmo and sends the Dragon on her way, the first stage booster will return to land at SpaceX’s LZ-1 landing zone at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Considered to be impractical if not impossible by many skeptics just a few years ago, this has now become almost a standard feature of SpaceX launches, with the only real question asked nowadays being “will they bring it back by land or by sea?”
CRS-11 is also a special mission for us here at Take Back the Sky, because we hope to convince SpaceX to name the first Dragon 2 variant of this very spacecraft (which is being developed to transport American crews to and from the station as early as 2018) after the transport ship Serenity from Joss Whedon’s sci-fi series Firefly (and the subsequent motion picture that shared its name with the ship). A successful resupply mission involving a Dragon is always a great opportunity for Browncoats to write a letter to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and president Gwynne Shotwell to congratulate them on their ongoing success and let them know that they think Serenity would be a very shiny name for the first Dragon to take US astronauts into the black.
SpaceX’s webcast of the launch will go live approximately 20 minutes before liftoff. We invite you to watch along with us, and envision what it will be like to watch a Dragon named Serenity return US astronauts to space from American soil in the not-so-distant future.
If there’s one thing SpaceX has become very good at, it’s making history. And in just a couple of hours, they’ll do it again.
Elon Musk and company will launch their tenth resupply mission to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral this morning at 10:01 am, EST. A Falcon 9 will break atmo with a Dragon capsule that’s ISS bound, and shortly thereafter, if all goes according to plan, SpaceX will once again land the first stage of the rocket– this time at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) at Cape Canaveral. The Dragon will then rendezvous with the International Space Station on February 20.
It’s not the cargo of this 10th of 14 planned resupply missions to the ISS that’s particularly historic, nor is it SpaceX’s recovery of the Falcon’s first stage– something that the world used to watch for in anticipation during launches but is now practically taking for granted (a real credit to SpaceX). What makes this launch so special is where it’s taking place.
SpaceX will send CRS-10 into the black from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center. This particular launch site last saw action in 2011, during the waning days of the Space Shuttle program. Prior to that, though, it was the site from which America went to the Moon. In fact, every manned Apollo flight except for one (Apollo 10) was launched from LC-39A, and the Skylab space station was sent into orbit from there as well. In 1981, LC-39A ushered in a new era of American spaceflight with the launch of Space Shuttle Columbia, and the pad supported the shuttle program all the way through the final shuttle mission of Atlantis in 2011.
SpaceX is now leasing LC-39A from NASA, and this morning it will once again be the site from which we witness the next step in American spaceflight. This time around the future takes the shape of a privately-built, privately-owned rocket that will be carrying a privately built, privately-owned space capsule into the black in support of a space station that is internationally manned and operated by the joint efforts of several of the world’s government space agencies, after which that same rocket will return to Earth to land and be reused for future missions. And as if that’s not enough, within the year SpaceX may be ready use LC-39A to launch American astronauts into space in a manned version of that very same capsule. (If you agree with us that that first Crew Dragon should be named Serenity, be sure to write to SpaceX and let them know.) If a launch complex could talk, we bet LC-39A would find it appropriate to quote Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds:
“I’m thinking we’ll rise again.”
You can watch SpaceX’s historic launch online this morning on NASA TV starting at 8:30am. SpaceX’s coverage of the launch should begin around 9:30am at spacex.com. Should the launch be postponed for any reason, the backup launch window is Sunday, February 19 at 9:38 am EST. Here’s to history.
Peace, love and rockets…
A couple of days ago, engineer, naval aviator, Apollo astronaut and “the last man on the moon” Eugene “Gene” Cernan passed away at the age of 82. We know… there’s been a lot of obituaries flooding your social feeds of late, and we won’t drag it out, but this man is worth a few words.
Born and raised in suburban Illinois, Cernan received a degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue before going on to serve in the United States Navy as an aviator. His career included over 5,000 hours at the stick, and over 200 landings on aircraft carriers.
He was among the third group selected by NASA for the Astronaut Corps. Cernan flew Gemini 9A and Apollo 10, and in the process became the second American spacewalker, pioneering techniques for extravehicular activity and orbital rendezvous that later crews would use.
What history knows him best for, though, was as commander of Apollo 17, the final expedition to the lunar surface, and the bittersweet honor of being the last man to walk on the moon. Cernan and his crew made the best of their time, gathering invaluable surveying data and samples that gave scientists important clues as to the moon’s early history (and he also managed to set the lunar land speed record in the rover while he was at it).
Before climbing the ladder to the lander and turning his back on the “magnificent desolation” of Earth’s moon, he paused and spoke these words to the people of Earth:
“…As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come … I’d like to just (say) what I believe history will record: that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.”
That’s what history remembers him for. I, however, remember him as a man of indomitable passion, more Browncoat than the Browncoats themselves. Heck, he responded to the “moon landing deniers” in the amazing documentary In the Shadow of the Moon (seriously, stream it the next chance you get, it’s one of the best ever made on the space race with beautiful, never-before-seen HD footage) with words that will sound familiar to any fan of Firefly: “Nobody can take those footsteps I made on the surface of the moon away from me.”
I was fortunate enough to meet this brave man when he came to speak at the University of Central Florida. The way that I will remember him will be as a fierce, tireless defender and advocate for getting us back out there in the black. Think about it– how horrible would it feel to be known as the last man to walk on the moon? As the years pass, I can imagine how it could turn from an honor into a terrible burden. Cernan may well have felt the same, because he continuously testified before Congress, spoke before audiences and anyone who would listen to him that he should NOT be the last.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I look at his life and how he spent it after returning to Earth, I can’t avoid looking at myself in the mirror in comparison and asking, “Well, what have you done for that cause?” Indeed, what have each of us done who professes to care and believe in the exploration and colonization of the heavens (which, you’d think, would include any fan of science-fiction franchises like Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly/Serenity, etc.)? Not to try to guilt anyone (aside from maybe myself) into it, but I really think there is more we could be doing– not “we” as in “trust everyone else to vote,” but as in you and me, no matter what your background may be.
It’s given me pause to think about how we’ve been going about this little campaign of ours at Take Back the Sky, and it may well inspire a change or two. I’m still thinking it all over in my mind, and I’ll keep you posted of any epiphanies that come to me.
But for now, Godspeed, Captain Cernan. It is our hope that mankind will, in the not-too-distant future, once again follow in your footsteps.
On Wednesday, SpaceX announced via its social media presence that the company is sending its first mission to the red planet as soon as 2018. They intend to land an unmanned Dragon spacecraft on the surface of Mars as a demonstration and to “inform [our] overall Mars architecture.”
On Thursday, NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden announced the names of four American astronauts whom the agency has selected to crew the first Commercial Crew Program flights to the International Space Station aboard spacecraft built by the private sector–two of these four will be the crew of the first manned flight of the Dragon v2 spaceship. They are:
Douglas “Chunky” Hurley, two-time shuttle pilot, former NASA Director of Operations at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia, and first Marine to fly the F/A-18 Hornet.
Sunita Williams, naval aviator, test pilot, avid windsurfer and snowboarder, former commander of the International Space Station, and current record holder for the most spacewalks and total time spacewalking for a woman.
Robert Behnken, Air Force flight test engineer, veteran of two shuttle missions, former Chief of the Astronaut Office, and “aquanaut” aboard the Aquarius underwater research station.
Eric Boe, Air Force colonel, test pilot, two-time shuttle pilot, veteran of 55 combat missions over the Persian Gulf, and former Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office.
Each of them boasts an impressive resume, even by astronaut standards. To call them “Big Damn Heroes,” the term of endearment favored by Browncoats and fans of Firefly, only begins to do them justice, with their track record of bravery, academic achievement, heroism, and even selfless humanitarian service.
Under the NASA Commercial Crew Services contracts awarded to Boeing and SpaceX, the first manned test flights of their craft–the CST-100 and the Dragon v2, respectively–will take place in 2017 with at least one NASA astronaut on board, with the other seats available for any number of “their people.” SpaceX have publicly stated that they intend to bring two NASA astronauts from this group.
Public statements by the astronauts themselves indicate that NASA’s current plan is to cross-train all four on both spacecraft to start, then eventually assign them to one craft or the other later on. This would be in keeping with NASA’s historic modus operandi of specialization of crew roles that formed in the days of Apollo and continued through the Shuttle era.
Interestingly, people are already referring to these men and women as “the Dragon Four” or “the Commercial Four” (I guess “CST-100” just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well), drawing comparisons to the original Mercury 7, America’s first astronauts. Upon reflection, the comparison is quite apt. Space, by definition, is a realm of “firsts”–first to walk on the moon, first to perform a spacewalk, heck, Williams is the first to run the Boston Marathon while in orbit! For all you know when you’re out in the Black, the most seemingly insignificant of acts could be a “first,” like “first to scratch one’s nose while reading email in space.” That’s what’s so wonderful about space, though: no matter how many folk we send to live out there and colonize it, each of them is entitled to a a degree of glory.
Even then, it is among the rarest, most momentous of occasions in the history of space exploration to be the first to fly a brand new class of vessel–which is exactly what the Dragon and CST-100 represent. Even more exciting is the prospect that ordinary people from the general public are picking up on this without having to be told or have it explained to them.
This announcement marks an important milestone in Take Back the Sky’s campaign to have the first manned Dragon named after Serenity, from the cult sci-fi Firefly franchise. NASA’s typical routine has always been to select and announce the crew of a mission roughly one year ahead of when they anticipate it will actually lift off the pad in order to give them time to train and rehearse. This means that we’re now entering the final phase before the engines ignite, and our remaining time to write letters and collect petition signatures is definitely limited.