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Live updates: SpaceX launch from the Kennedy Space Center


The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon sit on launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on September 15, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Any time a spacecraft leaves Earth there are risks, and there are no perfect measurements for predicting them.

But NASA estimates Crew Dragon has a 1-in-270 chance of catastrophic failure, based on one metric the space agency uses. For comparison, NASA’s Space Shuttle missions in the 1980s to early 2000s ultimately logged a failure rate of about 1 in every 68 missions.

Because of the inherent risks of blasting a spacecraft more than 17,500 miles per hour — the speed that allows an object to enter Earth’s orbit — Inspiration4 is theoretically more dangerous than the brief, up-and-down suborbital jaunts made by billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.

Apart from the many perils of the launch itself — in which rockets essentially use controlled explosions more powerful than most wartime bombs to drum up enough speed to rip away from gravity — there’s also the re-entry process. When returning from orbit, the Crew Dragon’s external temperatures can reach up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, and astronauts can experience 4.5 Gs of force pushing them into their seats, all while the ever-thickening atmosphere whips around the capsule.

During a Netflix documentary about the Inspiration4 mission, Musk described a capsule going through reentry as “like a blazing meteor coming in.”

“And so it’s hard not to get vaporized,” he added.

After that, the Crew Dragon then has to deploy parachutes to slow its descent and make a safe splashdown in the ocean before rescue ships can whisk the four passengers back to dry land.

Despite the risks, a former NASA chief and career safety officials have said the Crew Dragon is likely the safest crewed space vehicle ever flown.



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