SpaceX and NASA to launch first manned flight in nine years

American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will today reattempt to launch from the Kennedy Space Centre onboard a SpaceX

SpaceX

Photo: SpaceX

American astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will today reattempt to launch from the Kennedy Space Centre onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket—the first manned US launch in nine years. Wednesday’s initial attempt was delayed due to poor weather.

In 2011, the US retired its Space Shuttle fleet. The largely successful program experienced low points with the 1986 Challenger and the 2003 Columbia disasters that killed all seven crew aboard each flight, traumatic examples of the risks Hurley and Behnken face today.

For the last decade, NASA has bought seats aboard Russian Soyuz rockets to fly US crews to the International Space Station. Rather than spend billions developing and flying cargo and resupply missions, in 2010 NASA opted to pay fixed-bid contracts for routine launches to private companies while concentrating on major goals like the 2024 Artemis moon program. SpaceX and Orbital Sciences won the first such round of cargo contracts, and, after a successful program, NASA awarded crew-launch contracts to SpaceX and Boeing.

Today’s SpaceX flight represents a major shift in Washington’s space policy. Should SpaceX prove that the US is no longer dependent on Russian rockets, the US can make operational decisions without the Kremlin’s input. Additionally, by beating Boeing to launch a US crew, SpaceX will demonstrate that defence behemoths are not safe from competition, giving NASA the political capital to shift even more services to private firms.

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