This Wednesday begins a new space age with the sending by the SpaceX company of two NASA astronauts into space, a capacity that for decades symbolized the power of a handful of countries and of which the United States had been deprived for the last nine years.
If bad weather dissipates, at 8:33 p.m. GMT from Kennedy Space Center launch pad 39A, where Neil Armstrong and his companions from the Apollo 11 mission took off, a SpaceX rocket with the new Crew Dragon capsule hooked up will take off towards the International Space Station (ISS). Coverage will begin approximately 4 hours before takeoff.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the two men chosen by NASA for this demonstration mission, have been in quarantine for two weeks. Despite the closure, the plan was kept.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, a businessman obsessed with Mars and determined to change the rules of the game for the aerospace industry, earned the trust of the world’s largest space agency.
SpaceX became in 2012 the first private company to dock a cargo pod to the ISS. Two years later, NASA asked him to adapt the Crew Dragon capsule in order to transport astronauts.
“SpaceX wouldn’t be there without NASA,” Musk said last year, after a dress rehearsal of the unmanned trip to the ISS.
The space agency has paid more than $ 3 billion to SpaceX to design, build, test, and operate its capsule and make six round-trip space trips. The development experienced delays, explosions, parachute problems, but SpaceX beat the giant Boeing, which NASA also paid to make a capsule, the Starliner, which has no list yet.
The investment decision during the presidencies of George W. Bush for the shipment of cargo and Barack Obama for that of astronauts is considered fruitful compared to the tens of billions that cost the previous systems developed by NASA.
“Some have said that it is unfeasible or reckless to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree, ”Obama said in 2010. The former president’s decision met with hostility from Congress and NASA.
The President of the United States, Donald Trump, will attend the long-awaited takeoff, being the third acting president of the country to observe the departure of a manned flight, after Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. The Republican is trying to reaffirm American dominance of space and has ordered a return to the Moon in 2024.
If NASA could entrust the private sector with the missions closest to Earth, within the “low orbit”, this would allow it to allocate budget for its most distant missions. “We envision a future where Earth’s low orbit is completely privatized, where NASA is just one customer among others,” said Jim Bridenstine, the agency’s administrator. Otherwise, “we will never go to the Moon or Mars.”
“All of America will have the opportunity to see our country do something incredible again,” added Bridenstine.
The space agency resurrected a logo nicknamed “the worm”, used in the 1970s, which with its red lines will decorate the rocket, in a nod to the nostalgia of power and the race to conquer space.
SpaceX went down in history by becoming the first private company to dock a capsule with supplies to the ISS in 2012. Two years later, NASA ordered to move toward the dispatch of astronauts, adapting the Dragon capsule for passenger transport.
Thus, he collaborated with Musk’s original dream: “we had put windows in the loading version of the Dragon”, recalled on Monday the German Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of SpaceX.
“We were founded on the idea of human space flight,” he added excitedly.
The rain has fallen heavily in recent days in Florida, and forecasters give 40% that it will continue to rain on Wednesday in Cape Canaveral. In case of precipitation, the flight will be postponed until Saturday.
The Crew Dragon is a capsule-like the Apollo but from the 21st century. Touchscreens have replaced buttons and joysticks. The interior is dominated by white with more subtle lighting, nothing to do with the huge ferries that operated between 1981 and 2011.
“We expect a smoother but noisier flight,” said Bob Behnken, who like his mission partner travelled twice on those shuttles.
Unlike ferries, one of which exploded in 1986 after takeoff (Challenger), the Crew Dragon can be detached from the rocket in an emergency.
The capsule will arrive at the space station, located 400 kilometres above sea level, on Thursday and will likely remain docked there until August.
If it fulfils its mission, the Americans will no longer depend on the Russians to reach space. Well, since 2011, the Soyuz is the only space vehicles that make this journey. And the routes from Florida will return to normal, with four astronauts on board.
(With information from AFP )