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Men at Work
[ May 27, 2020 ] — It had been more than nine years since a manned rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral … the first since the last shuttle, Discovery, flew, July 8, 2011.
— dave hogerty (OriginalNoise.Org)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — After more than a day’s delay, and with approaching afternoon thunderstorms threatening to delay the launch again, Astronaut Doug Hurley, borrowing words from Alan Shepard, the first American who flew into space (May 5, 1961), confidently commanded “Let’s light this candle.”
A successful launch, today, would usher in a new era of commercial space travel, and put NASA, for the first time in nearly a decade, back in the business of launching astronauts, from the United States, back into space. Since the last space shuttle in 2011, all manned launches had embarked from Russian soil.
At 3:22 PM, Hurley’s command was answered … the engines of the Falcon 9 rocket, atop which he and fellow astronaut, Bob Behnken, were securely strapped in their Dragon capsule, were ignited, and the Falcon left launch pad 39A on its way to outer space.
Minutes later, after reaching a speed of more than 20,000 miles-per-hour (7 miles-per-second), Hurley and Behnken safely entered orbit, and prepared to dock with the space station.
The two men are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station on Sunday for a stay of up to four months, after which they will return to Earth in a Right Stuff-style splashdown at sea.
The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would be a morale-booster.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before launch.
With the on-time liftoff, SpaceX, founded by Musk, the Tesla electric-car visionary, became the first private company to launch people into orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the U.S., Russia and China.
The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA, the longest such hiatus in its history. Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.
In the intervening years, NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them $7 billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation. Boeing’s spaceship, the Starliner capsule, is not expected to fly astronauts until early 2021.