May 27, 2020
Barring poor weather or last-minute technical glitches, shortly after 4:30 P.M. Eastern time today, a spaceship carrying two crew members will blast off on a rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The flight will be bound for the International Space Station (ISS), but its true destination is the annals of space history: it will be the first time that U.S. astronauts have been launched from American soil since the final flight of the space shuttle program in 2011—and that anyone has flown to space using a commercially built crew capsule and rocket.
The new flight’s two astronauts, NASA veterans Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, will not wear the fluorescent orange ensembles of the space shuttle era. Instead, they will be clad in sleek, monochrome one-piece outfits that are lighter-weight, more maneuverable, and much better looking. The suits, like the mission’s Crew Dragon capsule and reusable Falcon 9 rocket, were designed and manufactured by aerospace company SpaceX.
All previous human spaceflight programs have been based on systems developed, owned, and run by government space agencies. Now, via its Commercial Crew program—which is itself a follow-on to the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program initiated in the mid-2000s—NASA is instead of buying seats and stowage on SpaceX assets. That strategy should free up funds for the agency to spend on other projects—deep-space exploration and transformative science missions—which presently remain out of reach for private enterprise. The hope is that federal investment in low-cost, reliable, and safe space transportation will spur rapid innovation and create entirely new opportunities for economic growth.
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