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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios
With the historic crewed SpaceX launch last weekend, NASA passed the torch to private companies who will need to step up to build the economy the space agency envisions in orbit.
Why it matters: This new era of spaceflight will likely be marked by new conflicts — possibly including product placement (like the Tesla that drove the astronauts to the pad on Saturday), safety concerns and cultural differences between companies and the space agencies and people they serve.
What's happening: On Saturday, SpaceX launched its first crewed spacecraft for NASA, bringing a mission six years in the making to fruition.
The big picture: NASA is now working toward becoming a buyer of rockets, spacecraft and various services instead of a provider in low-Earth orbit, passing off more responsibility to private companies and allowing NASA to focus on further-afield goals like getting people to Mars.
What to watch: Effectively, this mission is a proof of concept for companies hoping to one day make money in space.
The Falcon 9 rocket takes flight. Photo: SpaceX
As SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket sped to space Saturday, protests over the death of George Floyd and other police-involved killings of black Americans were taking place on Earth, creating a sharp juxtaposition between two facets of life in the U.S.
Why it matters: While much of the rhetoric around accomplishments in space place it outside of Earthly concerns — like racism and systemic oppression — space has never been separate from politics on Earth. And it isn't today.
The big picture: NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine saw the launch on Saturday as a moment of inspiration in a difficult time.
Yes, but: Others don't necessarily see it that way.
Between the lines: An American Institute of Physics task force found this year that the underrepresentation of African Americans in physics and astronomy is due to the systemic barriers African American students face within universities.
Background: Apollo 11 is often pointed to as a moment where people around the U.S. came together during a time of great division to watch something amazing, but it didn't erase what was happening on the ground in 1969.
A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arm began to swell.
(but Whitey's on the moon)
Was all that money I made last year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain't no money here?
(Hmm! Whitey's on the moon)
Y'know I just about had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I'll send these doctor bills,
(to Whitey on the moon)
The bottom line: "The fact that we are still having these conversations some 50 years later, should show us how much we have failed to make progress," Walkowicz said.
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
China has an ambitious new plan to build a space station in orbit by 2023.
Why it matters: The U.S. sees China as a rival in space, so any large undertaking like this one will be watched closely.
Details: China plans to launch the first module of its new space station next year, with a total of 11 launches needed to complete the station by 2023, according to a report from SpaceNews.
What to watch: In mid-May, intact pieces of China's Long March 5 booster fell back to Earth, potentially putting people on the ground in Ivory Coast in danger and flouting norms among nations to safely de-orbit their spent rockets.
Photo: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory/Joy Ng
The Sun unleashed a strong solar flare last week for the first time since 2017, potentially signaling that our nearest star's activity is ramping up after a long period of quiescence.
Why it matters: Strong solar flares can harm satellites and people in space, while the most extreme flares could take down Earth's electrical grids.
Details: NASA probes in space caught sight of the M-class flare on May 29 as it shot out from a family of sunspots — dark, transient regions on the Sun — that should be rotating into view shortly.
What's next: Scientists will closely watch the Sun's activity in the coming weeks to see if the star is, in fact, coming out of its slumber and entering into a new period of activity.
Unheard-of composition could explain 'Oumuamua's weirdness (Mike Wall, Space.com)
Army’s evaluation of Starlink broadband to focus on reliability, vulnerability (Sandra Erwin, SpaceNews)
SpaceX launch provides a chance to compare the new and old (Christian Davenport, Washington Post)
SpaceX capsule carrying astronauts docks with space station (Axios)
Why space is good politics for Trump (Margaret Talev and myself, Axios)
Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI/Aura/Westerlund 2 Science Team
Scientists think most stars in our galaxy play host to planets, but 20,000 light-years away, a dense cluster of stars is proving to be the exception to that rule.
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