During almost all of Barack Obama’s presidency, the United States space industry was outsourced to Russia. But President Donald Trump has made space exploration a priority of his administration, and for the first time in almost a decade, a space flight will depart from Florida on May 27.
The date for the upcoming trip from U.S. soil to the International Space Station could change, but it will happen, NASA officials said, marking the first Florida launch since the final space shuttle flight in 2011.
The Washington Post reported on the development, including a public, private partnership that will make it happen:
This time, though, the launch will be markedly different from any other in the history of the space agency. Unlike Mercury, Gemini, Apollo or the space shuttle era, the rocket will be owned and operated not by NASA, but by a private company — SpaceX, the hard-charging commercial space company founded by Elon Musk.
For all the company’s triumphs, and its experience flying cargo to the International Space Station for NASA, it has never flown a single human being into space, a significant and dangerous challenge. NASA has spent years working with the California-based company to ensure its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft can safely deliver astronauts to orbit. And the flight would be the culmination of years of work, which has at times seen setbacks and delays.
With a successful launch, SpaceX would accomplish an upset over its rival, Boeing, which also is under contract to fly NASA crews to the space station as part of the agency’s “commercial crew program.” Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft suffered a series of significant setbacks during a test flight without astronauts in December that prevented it from docking with the station and prompted an investigation by NASA.
The Post reported the investigation uncovered problems and now Boeing recently agreed to refly the mission without astronauts on board before it will launch with astronauts.
“In 2014, NASA awarded a total of $6.8 billion in contracts to SpaceX and Boeing, which won the larger share of the pot, $4.2 billion, while SpaceX got $2.6 billion for the same work,” the Post reported. “Last year, SpaceX successfully flew its Dragon to the station, paving the way for a crewed flight.”
The space station represents “a $100 billion investment by the American taxpayer,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told the Post in an interview. “It’s a symbol of diplomacy and cooperation that is important not just for our country but the whole world. It’s mission essential.”
The Post acknowledged that, until now, NASA has been dependent on Russia to send men and women into space, and the cost for that dependency is high and keeps increasing “from $21.3 million a seat in 2006 to almost $82 million a seat by 2015, an increase of nearly 300 percent.”
NASA has assigned two of its most experienced astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who have both been to space multiple times and who are both former military test pilots, according to the Post.
“If all goes to plan, they’ll lift off at 4:32 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A, the historic starting point for many Apollo and shuttle missions,” the Post reported.
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