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SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts describe thrilling ride to orbit

Astronauts hold Q&A at space station
Astronauts talk about successful SpaceX Crew Dragon launch in space station news conference 27:34

Rookie astronaut Victor Glover, a Navy F/A-18 carrier pilot, is used to high-speed maneuvers and sharp accelerations flying high-performance jets. But nothing prepared him for the sounds, sensations and extended acceleration he felt riding into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Or the view from 260 miles up. Or the sensation of weightlessness.

"My brain is constantly trying to figure out where up is," he told reporters Thursday during an orbital news conference aboard the International Space Station. It didn't help, perhaps, that he ended up in a sleep station recessed into the ceiling of the lab's Harmony module.

"I don't know if it's because I'm a new guy, they made me sleep in the ceiling," he laughed. "So every time I pop my head out, the entire space station is upside down. So I just stay upside down as much as possible."

He said everyday tasks take him longer as he adjusts to the environment, "but it is an interesting challenge I actually find slightly amusing. So it's been a whole bunch of emotions and honestly, I'm still processing it."

The four Crew-1 astronauts, joined by crewmate Kate Rubins, aboard the International Space Station during an orbital news conference Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. Left to right: Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, Michael Hopkins, Soichi Noguchi and Rubins. NASA TV

Glover, commander Michael Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center Sunday night strapped into a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

After a 27.5-hour rendezvous, they docked at the space station Monday night, welcomed aboard by Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who arrived at the station October 14 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The Crew Dragon launch marked the first operational use of the commercially developed spacecraft, intended to help end NASA's post-shuttle reliance on Russia for flights to and from low-Earth orbit.

Because the crew straps in before fueling begins, Hopkins said they could hear the propellants pumping into the tanks below and "you can tell it wants to get off the ground."

"And it just leapt off the pad," he said. "It was amazing. About 40 seconds into the flight, you throttle back (the engines) a little bit and you definitely notice that, but then when it was time to get going again, it really picked up and yeah, it was really moving."

The separation of the rocket's first and second stages "is always pretty exciting, I think, on any rocket and this one is no different."

The Falcon 9 first stage booster that propelled the Crew-1 astronauts out of the lower atmosphere was hauled back to Port Canaveral Thursday after landing on a SpaceX droneship Sunday. The rocket had a pronounced tilt, but it wasn't immediately known if that was due to landing leg problems during touchdown or rough seas on the way back to port. SpaceX plans to use the booster for the next Crew Dragon launch in six months. Willliam Harwood/CBS News

"And then this slow, steady build up in Gs all the way up into orbit. We were all very excited. When we passed the hundred-kilometer point (marking the boundary of the lower atmosphere) we all said 'welcome to space' to Ike."

Glover's crewmates jokingly call him Ike, an acronym that stands for "I Know Everything." Describing his impressions of launch, Glover, the first African American to make a long-duration station flight, said "the short answer is, it was awesome."

"I could sit here and tell you for the entire duration of this conference how great the ride was," he said. "But the staging was dynamic. The second stage is much closer to our spacecraft, so you felt that it was much more up close and personal.

"And then when that engine cut off, and we're in orbit, I mean, it's surreal. I've seen tons of pictures, but you know, when I first looked out the window at the Earth, it's hard to describe. There are no words, there are no words to describe it. It was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime feeling."

Said Rubins: "I was so excited to see Ike's face coming through that hatch. We've been thinking about this moment up here together with the two Sergeys, waiting for our four crewmates. ... We were just really, really excited to see them coming through the hatch."

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