The two astronauts were greeted by Expedition 63 crew members, namely NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. The question many people ask is: why is this launch, which from the outside might seem the same as all the others, is a reason for so much enthusiasm? This launch is in fact a transition in the way space flight is operated from the United States of America.
When a journey begins
The pair of astronauts docked at the space station’s Harmony module at 10:16 on Sunday (EDT time) while the station was flying at 421 kilometers altitude, at the border between northern China and Mongolia. In the following image, it can be appreciated how the uniform tip of the module is open, showing the spacecraft coupling mechanism that is positioned inside the adapter of the Harmony module, with a function similar to that of a pincer.
Behnken and Hurley have nicknamed their Dragon “Endeavor”, as a tribute to the first vehicle on which both astronauts had flown. Hurley is the commander of the Dragon vehicle, so he is responsible for the launch, landing and recovery.
He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and completed two space flights, and was a pilot for both the STS-127 in July 2009 and the STS-135, the final space shuttle mission, in July 2011.
The whole mission was made possible by NASA’s Commercial Crew program, which together with SpaceX and Boeing is investing in designing, building, testing and operating safe, reliable and inexpensive human transport systems to low Earth orbit.
The Dragon capsule was launched via a reusable Falcon 9 rocket, the latest of the many successes collected by SpaceX in recent years.
Just a test
This flight, known as “SpaceX Demo-2”, was an end-to-end test to validate and prove the effectiveness of the human crew transport system through SpaceX instrumentation, including launch operations, operations in orbit, those of docking and landing. This was the second SpaceX flight test to include the use of the Crew Dragon capsule, and it was the first test with astronauts on board.
The transition from humanless flight on board to two astronauts in the cabin was a fundamental step, because the real goal of the US agency is to make the United States of America autonomous in sending astronauts into orbit.
Until now, in fact, the only means available to reach the orbit was the Russian production Soyuz capsule, with the respective launches and returns that took place in Eastern Europe. But with the success of the first SpaceX mission with crew on board, from now on NASA will not purchase missiles and capsules from other countries, but will be able to directly dispose of all the equipment “on site”, without asking for help from the Russian space agency.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine then communicated with the crew from Mission Control to Houstos: “The whole world has seen this mission, and we are so proud of all that this mission has done for our country, exciting the whole world.”
The crew will remain at work on the ISS and in the meantime tests will continue to be carried out to further verify the performance of the Dragon Endeavor, while it is anchored to the space station. The dragon used for this flight test can remain in orbit for about 110 days and the specific duration of the mission will be determined from time to time based on the availability of a next crew launch.
However, that value is much lower than the limit calculated by the tests performed by Space X: the Crew Dragon vehicle will be able to remain in orbit for at least 210 days, fully complying with the requirement of NASA.
At the end of the mission, Behnken and Hurley will board the spacecraft, which will disengage autonomously, leave the space station and return to Earth through an entrance into the atmosphere and a subsequent controlled ditching assisted by parachutes: the ditching will take place in the Atlantic Ocean , where the crew of the recovery ship SpaceX will bring the capsule and astronauts on board, to bring them back to Cape Canaveral.
That economic aid for the aerospace sector, wanted by the President of the United States of America Donald Trump, has been significant and important is beyond doubt.
But there are those who see an excessive protagonism, especially following the spot of the re-election campaign, broadcast in the days following the launch of the Dragon capsule.
“One of the things the spot reminded me of was Richard Nixon at the time of Apollo 11. Nixon had nothing to do with Apollo 11, but he wrapped himself in all the celebrations and never once mentioned Kennedy “, points out John Logsdon, who wrote books on the space policies of Nixon and Kennedy, pointing out that the video “Make Space Great Again” made no reference to the decades-long history of the Crew Program, which began during Barack Obama’s presidency.
“And likewise, Trump seemed to sense that he was responsible for everything and that nothing that had happened before had any impact.”, he added.
This does not imply, however, that Trump’s interest in space is simulated or untruthful; all the clues show who the president is “very positive towards the space program”, concludes Logsdon.
For example, the White House budget request for 2021 with $ 25.2 billion for NASAwould be the largest budget increase for the agency in the past two decades.
We do not enter into the merits of the economic and political aspect of the issues that revolve around this new race to space, but this new “push”, regardless of the reasons that generated it, will certainly bring progress equal to, if not greater than, that which allowed the moon landing, now 50 years ago.