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…
BulgariaSat-1 will launch into space atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this coming Saturday afternoon from Cape Canaveral, FL, USA.
In addition to being the nation’s first geostationary communications satellite, this launch will also add a note to the history of spaceflight as the second such launch to utilize a previously flown booster. The flight is the latest in SpaceX’s ambitious development program to make reusable launch vehicles 100% reusable in the hopes of reducing the overall cost of access to space by an order of magnitude. The first stage of this particular rocket was launched on January 14 and carried multiple satellites to add to the Iridium communications constellation before successfully landing under its own power.
“Elon Musk and his SpaceX team have convinced me that people like them bring us closer to a new quality of life through providing access to cutting-edge technology,” stated BulgariaSat chief executive Maxim Zayakov. “This is a chance for Bulgaria to join the efforts to develop these new aspects of space industry.”
The scheduled two-hour long launch window opens at 1410 EDT (1810 UTC) from the historic Launch Complex 39A, the former launching pad of the American Space Shuttle. The launch will be streamed live from SpaceX’s YouTube channel and at spacex.com.
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.
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.
For nearly four years now you’ve been listening to us tell you all the reasons why Serenity is the perfect name for the next manned US spacecraft. If you’re a Browncoat, you probably didn’t take much convincing, but even those who aren’t big fans of the series Firefly or the film Serenity would most likely still agree that the name Serenity embodies the ideals of 21st-century space exploration, which is certainly built more upon a foundation of peace and cooperation than the space race of the Cold War era was.
But some of you may still be asking yourselves, “Why are they so fixated on SpaceX?” After all, it was NASA who chose the name Enterprise at the urging of tens of thousands of letter-writing Star Trek fans, and NASA is still the driving force (and paying customer) behind the Commercial Crew Project. Besides, if what we read in the press is to be believed, NASA wants Boeing’s CST-100, not SpaceX’s Dragon 2, to be the first manned US spacecraft to break atmo since the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched into the black for the final time (on this very date four years ago).
Given the fact that SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon has already completed six successful resupply missions to the International Space Station and Boeing’s CST-100 has yet to leave the launch pad, I’m sure there is a lot of room for debate as to which ship will be ready to make the trip first. But we’ll save that debate for another time. Suffice it to say that we believe that when the chips finally hit the table, it’s going to be SpaceX’s Dragon v2 that’ll be ready to answer the call.
But that’s not the only reason why we’re focusing our efforts on SpaceX instead of NASA or Boeing. It’s also because we believe that SpaceX, unlike the others, cares about the relationship between pop culture and the space industry. In short, Elon Musk, Gwynne Shotwell and the vast majority of their employees at SpaceX are our kind of people. And that’s not just some vibe we’re getting. You only need look at their track record to see exactly what we’re talking about.