Trump monitor as Us SpaceX to launch astronauts into space for first time

In the beginning, everyone was skeptical. But Elon Musk’ s SpaceX defied expectations – and on Wednesday hopes to make history by ferrying two NASA astronauts into space , the first crewed flight from US soil in nine long years.

US President Donald Trump will be among the spectators at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the launch , which has been given the green light despite months of shutdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The general public , in a nod to virus restrictions, has been told to watch via a livestream as Crew Dragon is launched by a Falcon 9 rocket toward the International Space Station .

NASA’ s Commercial Crew program , aimed at developing private spacecraft to transport American astronauts in to space , began under Barack Obama .

But his successor sees it as a symbol of his strategy to reassert American domination of space , both military — with his creation of the Space Force – and civilian .

He has ordered NASA to return to the moon in 2024 , an unlikely timetable but one that has given the storied space agency a boost .

In the 22 years since the first components of the ISS were launched , only spacecraft developed by NASA and by the Russian space agency have carried crews there.

NASA used the illustrious shuttle program — huge , extremely complex , winged ships that carried dozens of astronauts into space for three decades.

But their staggering cost – $ 200 billion for 135 flights – and two fatal accidents finally put an end to the program .

The last shuttle , Atlantis , landed on July 21 , 2011.

After, NASA astronauts learned Russian and travelled to the ISS in the Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan , in a partnership which survived political tensions between Washington and Moscow .

But it was only ever meant to be a temporary arrangement. NASA had entrusted two private companies — aviation giant Boeing and upstart SpaceX — with the task of designing and building capsules that would replace the shuttles .

Nine years later , SpaceX – founded by Musk, the outspoken South African entrepreneur who also built PayPal and Tesla , in 2002 — is ready to launch .

– ‘ Success story’ –
At 4 :33 pm (2033 GMT ) on Wednesday, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is set to take off from Launch Pad 39A with the Crew Dragon capsule at its top .

NASA has awarded SpaceX more than $ 3 billion in contracts since 2011 to build the spacecraft .

The capsule will be crewed by Robert Behnken , 49, and Douglas Hurley , 53 , both veteran space travelers — Hurley piloted Atlantis on its last trip.

Nineteen hours later they will dock at the ISS, where two Russians and an American are waiting for them .

The weather forecast remains unfavorable , with a 60 percent chance of bad conditions , according to Cape Canaveral forecasters .

The next launch window is Saturday , May 30 .

The launch has taken five years longer than planned to come about , but even with the delays SpaceX has beaten Boeing to the punch.

Boeing ’ s test flight of its Starliner failed due to serious software issues , and will have to be redone .

“ It’ s been a real success story, ” Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA ’ s Ames Center in Silicon Valley who now teaches at Stanford.

“ There was huge skepticism , ” Hubbard , who met Musk before the creation of SpaceX and also chairs a SpaceX safety advisory panel , recalled .

“ Senior people at the legacy companies , Lockheed , Boeing , would tell me at a conference that these SpaceX guys don’ t know what they don’ t know .

SpaceX finally came out on top with its cheaper Falcon 9 rocket , the first stage of which comes back to land vertically on a barge in the Atlantic .

Since 2012 , SpaceX has been resupplying the ISS for NASA , thanks to the cargo version of the Dragon capsule.

The manned mission , called Demo – 2 , is crucial for Washington in two ways .

The first is to break NASA’ s dependence on the Russians .

But the second is to catalyze a private “ low Earth orbit ” market open to tourists and businesses .

“ We envision a day in the future where we have a dozen space stations in low Earth orbit . All operated by commercial industry , ” said NASA boss Jim Bridenstine .

Musk is aiming higher : he is building a huge rocket , Starship , to circumnavigate the Moon — or even to travel to Mars and ultimately make humanity a “ multi – planet species ” .

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