SpaceX's Crew Dragon has sent its first two humans into space, and they're enjoying some incredible views from the International Space Station.
On May 27, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley took off from the Kennedy Space Center with the aid of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It was the first time SpaceX had sent humans into space, and marked a new era for NASA's spaceflight capabilities. Behnken and Hurley have been at the station for nearly a month now, and they're expected to return in August.
On Saturday, Behnken shared an image via Twitter of the fantastic view from the space station. Viewers can see the Crew Dragon in the center pointing out to the right, docked to the space station and waiting to return. The image also shows the H-II Transfer Vehicle, a cargo capsule from Japanese space agency JAXA.
At the bottom of the image, viewers can see the curvature of the Earth. This fantastic sight has given rise to the term "overview effect," coined in 1987 by writer Frank White to describe the effect of seeing humanity's home from a distance. Astronauts describe feeling a sense of awe, realizing that almost all of human history is contained in this fragile blue orb floating in the vastness of space.
The image was captured by NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who was already on board the space station when the pair arrived. Cassidy arrived on April 9, accompanied by Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The trio were taken up with a Soyuz rocket taking off from Kazakhstan, an arrangement set to change with the successful launch of the Crew Dragon from the United States.
Cassidy and Behnken conducted a spacewalk on Friday at 1:39 p.m. Eastern time to help upgrade the space station's solar array used for generating electricity from the sun. They replaced five out of six older batteries that used nickel-hydrogen to provide power for the starboard 6 truss. They also installed two of of three planned lithium-ion batteries, using a technology a little closer to the battery inside a smartphone, and two of three related adapter plates to complete the circuit.
The spacewalk was reported by NASA to be a success. It's the first of four planned spacewalks to replace the batteries, and it took six hours and seven minutes.
"We started getting suited around 6:45am GMT, opened the hatch around 11:30am and finished with our suits off around 6:30pm," Cassidy wrote on his Twitter page. "Worked through lunch and got off early!"
It was both Cassidy and Behnken's seventh spacewalk, and the pair are set to complete another spacewalk to replace the remaining battery on July 1.
After he shared the image, Behnken also shared two more photos that show the Earth from above, as it moves the boundary between day and night over the sky.
Behnken and Hurley didn't know how long they would be staying at the space station when they first launched. Ahead of Friday's spacewalk, SpaceflightNow reported that the team is now looking at an early August timeframe to return to Earth, with the earliest date being August 2. This would give the agency six weeks to evaluate the data from this first test mission, and prepare for potentially launching the first non-test mission with four astronauts in mid-September.
The Inverse analysis – The images shared by Behnken show the stunning sights that astronauts get to experience during their daily work. As SpaceX works to open up spaceflight to more people, it could become a sight that an increasing number of people get to witness.
While the Crew Dragon is currently sending up professional astronauts, firms like Space Adventures and Axiom Space have both outlined plans to use SpaceX's technology to send regular people into space. The Starship, SpaceX's planned ship to send up to 100 people into space at a time, could make views like these practically commonplace.
Update 07/29 12:35 p.m. Eastern time: An earlier version of this story described both Space Adventures and Axiom Space as "space tourism firms." It has since been updated.