The launch on Saturday of the Falcon 9 rocket from the private company SpaceX marked the beginning of the commercialization of the Earth’s orbit in what is expected to be “the new space age” and the return of the missions to the International Space Station (ISS) from American soil after nine years of absence.
NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken headed to the ISS aboard the Crew Dragon capsule to certify the flight system of the SpaceX company, founded by Elon Musk, generating an expectation among the population that had not been seen for a long time. years.
This mission, the first part of which will conclude when the capsule docks this Sunday on the ISS 19 hours after takeoff, is the final test of the commercial space flight program that began when NASA awarded in 2014 two separate contracts to SpaceX and Boeing for the commercialization of Earth orbit to cut the costs of space travel.
The astronauts will remain on the ISS for between 6 and 16 weeks during which they will test the systems of the Crew Dragon capsule with which they will have to return safely to home, after which the missions operated by private companies will begin.
“Doug” Hurley and “Bob” Behnken are friends, they entered NASA in 2000, married women astronauts, both retired and belonging to the same class, they each have a son, and now they make history by being the first to travel to the ISS nine years after the cancellation of the space shuttle program from US soil.
Since 2011 NASA has been forced to use the Russian Soyuz launch system to send its astronauts to the ISS, but now it regains its autonomy by leaving it in the hands of private companies.
The ultimate goal of the US aerospace agency is to create a model of commercial space travel with which they intend to travel to the Moon and Mars thanks to the encouragement of private industry.
The excitement of today’s takeoff was maintained until the last moment due to the weather conditions that threatened to cancel the launch, just as it happened last Wednesday, and that this Saturday left the more ten million people who watched the broadcast in suspense live through the NASA channel.
The President of the United States, Donald Trump, and the Vice President, Mike Pence, did not miss the show and went to the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral (Florida), to see the takeoff live, reflecting the importance that gives his Administration to space exploration.
Trump, who wants to dedicate $ 25 billion to the US aerospace agency from next year’s budget, said “to be proud of both NASA and private-sector workers” after takeoff.
“We are going to go to the Moon so we can go to Mars,” said Trump, who is the first president in office to travel to the Kennedy Space Center to see a live launch from Bill Clinton in October 1998.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained a few minutes after lift-off that the Trump Administration has recovered “a kind of leadership in space that has not existed for a long time.”
“He has also said that we will get to the Moon by 2024. He is taking risks and taking responsibility for the fulfilment of those projects that he has promised,” Bridenstine said.
Following the footsteps of history
Behnken and Hurley followed the footsteps of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Amstrong in 1969 and boarded the shuttle from launch pad 39A, the same one used for the historic Apollo 11 mission where humans would step on the Moon for the first time.
However, their journey from the Space Center facilities to the spacecraft was somewhat different since they did it in two Tesla cars, a company co-founded by Musk himself.
“It is a great honour for us to be part of this great effort to put the United States back into the space launch market,” Behnken said a few minutes before taking off.
“Thank you for all the work you have done and for putting the United States back into Earth orbit from the Florida coast,” Hurley added from space.
They have taken the first step in a new era in which the next big goal will be the success of the Artemis mission, which aims to bring a man and a woman to the lunar surface in 2024 and advance technology that allows them to reach Mars with which the USA wants to restore its dominance and leadership in space.