Can SpaceX Falcon 9 be launched to redeem 2020 for Americans?

Earth seen from Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon.

On Wednesday, U.S. astronauts are expected to depart again from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to another landmark for U.S. space exploration. Now, as then, the United States is bogged down in the dark amid a pandemic that is likely to claim its one hundred thousand victim this week and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

The wonder of space flight and the courage of astronauts flying for the first time as part of NASA’s delayed collaboration with the launch of the private crew could offer a moment of diversion. A return to American manned space flight after nine years will also lighten the United States when it relies on Russia to transport crew members to the International Space Station.

But it is unlikely to resonate like the first trip around the moon when astronaut William Anders snapped the iconic Earthrise photograph and gave humanity a vision of itself from the threshold of another world.
For all its technological advances, the new mission it will seem like a step backwards. U.S. astronauts use a vehicle, the reusable SpaceX Falcon 9, which will look a lot like a 1960s missile on the launch pad, following the withdrawal of the star-crossed space shuttle program.

While NASA’s ultimate goal is a trip to Mars, the U.S. program in the coming years – travel to and from the space station and then the moon – will not be a big step forward for humanity. Steady progress only underlines the wonder for men who left Earth on a much more shaky boat half a century ago.

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Given Covid’s emergency, NASA has asked the crowd not to gather in Florida to watch Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley explode. This does not prevent President Donald Trump from making plans to fly over there in any case to bask in reflected patriotic glory – even if unfavorable weather forecasts could delay Wednesday’s launch.

Back on the mainland after the Apollo 8 odyssey, the mission commander Frank Borman received a telegram that read “You saved 1968.“If only the same were possible in 2020.

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