1 big thing ... Hope during virus: Return to space
Wednesday's SpaceX launch would be huge, even if it were just the return to launching astronauts on U.S. rockets for the first time in nearly a decade.
- But throw in the fact that it will also be the first orbital launch of U.S. astronauts by a private company — and the fact that it's happening in the middle of a pandemic — and you have a seismic historical event, writes Miriam Kramer, author of the weekly Axios Space newsletter.
- Launch America is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT on Wednesday.
Why it matters: The launch to the International Space Station will mark the first crewed rocket launch from U.S. soil since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
- That nine-year gap is the longest since Alan Shepard's first spaceflight in 1961.
How is that possible in time of virus?
- By limiting media at Kennedy Space Center, holding virtual press briefings, quarantining NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken — and testing them regularly so they don't carry the virus to the space station.
Since 2011, NASA has relied on Russia's Soyuz rockets to launch astronauts to the space station. This launch is expected to be the beginning of the end of that reliance.
- NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing to build vehicles to fly NASA astronauts to the station in 2014, kicking off the Commercial Crew program.
The big picture: The space program has provided this kind of hope during dark times for Americans before.
- As the Apollo 8 capsule orbited the Moon in 1968 on Christmas Eve, the astronauts aboard read from the book of Genesis as millions watched back on Earth.
- The broadcast provided a respite to a tumultuous year that included the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Usually, crowds of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, flock to Florida's Space Coast to try to get a glimpse of a flight as it takes off.
- This time, however, NASA is asking the public to join online.
NASA says it's working with Tom Cruise to film aboard the Space Station at some point.
- It's all part of NASA's grand plan to become a buyer of services in low-Earth orbit instead of a provider, allowing the agency to focus on bigger goals like getting humans to Mars.
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