Three American astronauts and a Japanese astronauts took off from the United States on Sunday for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a rocket from SpaceX, NASA’s new space transportation system after nine years of dependence on Russia.
“It’s a great day for the United States and for Japan,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said at a news conference.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket took off without failures and at the scheduled time from Kennedy Space Center in Florida (southeast), illuminating the night landscape of the coast.
On board the capsule attached to the upper part were the American astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and the Japanese Soichi Noguchi.
“It was an incredible launch,” Captain Hopkins said, once in orbit.
Less than three minutes after takeoff, at an altitude of 90 km and while the rocket was traveling at 7,000 km / h, the first tier of the spacecraft detached without incident to return to Earth, as it will be reused in a mission scheduled for 2021 which will lead four astronauts to the ISS.
Meanwhile, the second level, with the capsule, continued its course and its trajectory was correct, as announced by SpaceX.
This trip will last 27 and a half hours, and the Dragon capsule should dock around 0400 GMT on Tuesday to the ISS, where two Russians and one American are. The crew will stay there for six months.
This “operational” flight continues the successful demonstration mission carried out from May to August, in which two American astronauts were flown to the ISS and then safely brought to Earth by SpaceX.
The Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence, attended the space center to attend the launch.
“Welcome to the continuation of a new era of manned space exploration in the United States,” he said shortly before.
SpaceX’s Dragon capsule is the second device currently capable of reaching the ISS, alongside the highly reliable Russian Soyouz, which has taken all visitors to the station since 2011, after the United States interrupted its manned flights nine years ago. years. A second shuttle, made by Boeing, could be operational in a year.
NASA hopes, however, to continue cooperating with Russia. To do this, he proposed to provide places for his cosmonauts in future missions and intends that the Americans continue to use the Soyouz regularly.
But the negotiations drag on. “We want an exchange of places,” said the head of NASA on Friday during a press conference. “The talks are ongoing,” he said, just as he has been doing for months.
– Budget without closing –
The reality is that ties between Washington and Moscow in the space realm, one of the rare sectors where they were still good, are weakening. Breaking more than 20 years of cooperation for the ISS, Russia will not participate in the next mini-station devised by NASA around the Moon, the Gateway.
The head of the Russian space agency Roskosmos, Dmitri Rogozine, ironized in 2014 about the need for the United States to use a “springboard” to reach the ISS. And Elon Musk, the controversial boss at SpaceX, did not forget the provocation and replied in May: “The springboard works.”
SpaceX has become Rogozine’s black beast. In addition to becoming NASA’s preferred carrier, Musk’s company is also a leader in the market for private satellite launches, eventually forcing Russia to review its aging space program.
This summer, Roskosmos announced a project to build a new reusable rocket, “not semi-reusable like SpaceX,” Rogozine wanted to point out. “Our engineers … do not want to repeat what their colleagues at SpaceX do, but to surpass them.”
But the simple fact that Roskosmos is compared to a private company serves to illustrate the new era that the world entered since the 2010s: space is no longer a monopoly of the States.
The US strategy, intensified during the term of Donald Trump, was to privatize access to the surroundings of the Earth, boosting the activity of companies such as SpaceX and Boeing with millions of dollars in contracts to become service providers for NASA and for any person or private company.
“NASA was a complete disaster when we took over. Now it is again the ‘hottest’ and most advanced space center in the world, by far!” The outgoing president wrote.
Joe Biden, who will replace Trump in January, also praised NASA and SpaceX, but from another angle. “It is proof of the power of science and what we can achieve by combining innovation, ingenuity and determination,” the president-elect tweeted.
But the political shift in Washington is a complex moment for the space agenda, which has yet to receive from Congress the tens of billions of dollars needed to end the Artemis program back to the Moon in 2024.
Bridenstine announced that he will be leaving his post to allow Biden to set his own space goals. To this day, the Democrat has not yet referred to the date of 2024 to walk on the Moon again.
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