Don Lee: Watching rocket history being made

Published 11:19 pm Friday, June 5, 2020

Maybe reading this will take your mind off the virus, protests, rioting and looting news for a few minutes. Elon Musk’s SpaceX did it — they are the first commercial spacecraft to take humans into low-earth orbit.

I watched most of it, and was pleased that the astronauts have had a safe journey.

I noticed that Doug Hurley bumped his head on the hatch when he was leaving the Dragon.

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During the interview, he kept wiping his head with a pad or tissue. I wonder if he bloodied his upper forehead, but it was not mentioned in the newscasts.

The next big accomplishment will be the safe return to earth.

I understand that they will be helping with chores and experiments while on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Their first chore will be to help unload the Japanese cargo capsule that arrived earlier.

Our military officers aboard do not have the enlisted men to do the labor. (I was an enlisted man while in the service.)

As you have probably already heard, both of the current astronauts were shuttle flyers that entered the ISS in the same port as the space shuttle.  It has not been used since 2011.

The shuttle was considerably different from the Falcon 9. The shuttle weighed in at 4,270,000 pounds while loaded and the Falcon 9 is only 1,115,200 pounds.

Both astronauts agreed that the first stage of the Falcon 9 ride was much smoother than the shuttle.  However, the second stage was rougher giving them some concern.

The coverage by the NASA TV was outstanding with dual views from both the Dragon and the ISS.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 was recovered three days after the May 31 launch.  After it is separated, it deploys fins to stabilize the flight back.

The first stage has rocket engines and instrumentation to bring it back to land on the drone ship which seems to be a barge about the size of a football field.

The drone ship is named “Of Course I Still Love You,” indicating that Elon Musk has a sense of humor.

After using a crane to lay it down, a tug brings the 15-story tall Falcon 9 booster back a few hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Canaveral for inspection and refurbishing for the next trip.

This saves a lot of money since the booster cost is a major part of rocket.

I believe that it has the big pumps and lines to supply the huge amount of liquid oxygen and kerosene to lift the rocket.

Another success for SpaceX was the launching of 60 internet satellites on June 3 with another Falcon 9 rocket.

Each satellite weighs 573 pounds and will be controlled at an altitude of 341 miles. The first stage was recovered just eight minutes and 42 seconds after launch and landed on a drone ship named, “Just Read The Instructions.”

This makes the fifth time the booster has been used.  SpaceX has launched 482 satellites.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at