In Cape Canaveral, everything is ready for the first US space mission with NASA astronauts after 11 years – La Stampa


FROM THE MAIL TO NEW YORK. The appointment with history is at 4 and 33 minutes this afternoon, that is, 10.33 pm in Italy, weather permitting. At that time, in fact, the launch of the Crew Dragon is expected in Cape Canaveral, which will bring NASA astronauts back to space on an American rocket after almost a decade of pause.

The last time was on July 21, 2011, when the Atlantis shuttle piloted by ex Marine Doug Hurley had landed. From then on, to go to the International Space Station 400 kilometers above the Earth, the Americans had been forced to ask for a passage to the Russian Soyuz rockets from Kazakhstan.

In 2002 the South African entrepreneur Elon Musk had founded in California SpaceX to colonize Mars, but then he had dedicated himself to home deliveries on the orbiting station with the Falcon rocket, inspired by the Millennium Falcon that the reckless Han Solo piloted in Star Wars. The cargo of the Tesla founder had thus become a regular taxi for NASA.

President Obama had decided that the US had to return to space, to land first over an asteroid, and then to Mars. In 2014 he started the Commercial Crew Program, with which NASA had entrusted to private individuals, allocating 4.2 billion dollars to Boeing and 2.6 billion to SpaceX, in order to build the means by which to return American astronauts to the orbiting station. . Boeing tried with the Starliner, but in December the test flight failed due to a software problem, and everything was postponed to 2021. SpaceX also had its troubles, such as a rocket explosion while trying the system of saving astronauts. But now she is ready, and today she plans to launch the Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon capsule on it, from the Cape Canaveral Launch Pad 39A. Musk chose the name inspired by “Puff the Magic Dragon”, a song for children suspected of being a hymn to drugs. He did it to respond to the envious, because when the business had started they had commented that where to be “done”, if he thought it would work. On board will be Doug Hurley, 53, who will then resume the American missions where they left off, and Bob Behnken, a former 49-year-old Air Force pilot. The two are very good friends, to the point that they met their wives, the astronauts Karen Nyberg and Megan McArthur, while doing the course together to enter NASA.

The Demo-2 mission has been prepared for five years, and it will not be a walk. According to the engineers, he has one chance out of 276 to end with Doug and Bob’s death, and one out of 60 to encounter non-fatal crew problems. The weather forecast is not optimal, and there is a 40% probability that the launch will have to be postponed to Saturday 30. President Trump, however, will go to Cape Canaveral, partly because he sees this event as a sign of the country’s return to normal after the Covid-19 epidemic; a bit because he also joined forces with Musk for the reopening of the Tesla factory; and a little bit because he sees this program as a great history opportunity for himself and for the United States.

Trump has decided that he wants to revive the American presence in space for the pride of looking like Kennedy, who had started conquering the moon, and for the great economic, technological and military opportunities it offers. The Apollo missions, after all, had been above all an exceptional driving force for the development of the country’s capabilities. Repeating them now would serve together to revive the US, conquer new spaces, and intimidate rivals such as China and Russia, which are challenging Washington’s global primacy. So the president founded the Space Force, which is the new component of the American armed forces in charge of fighting the “star wars”, and in December 2017 he signed the Space Policy Directive 1, with which he indicated the line to go among the stars. Trump admitted that returning to the moon does not interest him much, because it has already been done, but then corrected the shot, explaining that it would be used to build the base from which to conquer Mars. So on May 14, 2019 he christened the program Artemis, sister of Apollo, to prepare new explorations. The return to Earth of the satellite was anticipated from 2028 to 2024, during the possible second presidential term, with the aim of remaining permanently there and landing on the Red Planet in the 1930s.

To this end, NASA has already awarded $ 579 million to Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, 253 to Dynetics, and 135 to SpaceX, to build the lunar landing module. In total, the Apollo program had cost 136 billion today, while Artemis has so far received just over 20. However, we are just at the beginning, and important contributions will also come from the private sector, which for example aims to exploit space tourism to cash in millions. On April 6, then, the head of the White House signed an executive order to regulate the exploitation of mineral resources outside the Earth, that is Moon and beyond. The US therefore wants to return to the stars, but not just to look at them.

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