SpaceX astronauts are preparing for takeoff in the first “operational” flight to the ISS

Four astronauts were ready to launch the SpaceX Crew Dragon “Resilience” to the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, the first of what the United States hopes will be many routine missions after a successful test flight last spring.

Three Americans – Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker – and Japan’s Soichi Noguchi will blow up at 19:27 Sunday (0027 GMT Monday) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In May, SpaceX completed a demonstration mission that showed it could take astronauts to the ISS and bring them back safely, ending nearly a decade of trust in Russia to launch its Soyuz rockets.

“The history that is being made this time is that we are launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters on Friday.

The launch will be attended by Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence.

The crew will arrive at their destination at 23:00 Monday night (0400 GMT Tuesday), go with two Russians and an American on board the station and stay for six months.

Earlier this week, the crew kite became the first spacecraft to be certified by NASA since the space shuttle nearly 40 years ago.

It is a capsule similar to the spacecraft that preceded the space shuttle, and its launch vehicle is a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

At the end of their missions, Crew Dragon uses parachutes that then splash into water, just like in the Apollo era.

A $ 8 billion program

NASA turned to SpaceX and Boeing after closing the checkered space shuttle program in 2011, which failed with its main goals of making space travel affordable and safe.

The agency will have spent more than $ 8 billion on the Commercial Crew program by 2024, hoping that the private sector can take care of NASA’s needs in “low Earth” so it is freed to focus on returning missions to the moon and then on to March.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in 2002, has frogfugged its much older rival Boeing, whose program has floundered after a failed test of its undescribed Starliner last year.

But SpaceX’s success will not mean that the United States will completely stop riding with Russia, says Bridenstine.

“We want a change of location where American astronauts can fly on Russian soybean rockets and Russian cosmonauts can fly on commercial crew vehicles,” he said, explaining that it was necessary if any of the programs were down for a period of time.

The reality, however, is that the space ties between the United States and Russia, one of the few bright spots in their bilateral relations, have broken out in recent years, and much remains uncertain.

Russia has said it will not be a partner in the Artemis program to return to the moon in 2024, claiming that the NASA-led mission is too US-centric.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s space agency, has also repeatedly mocked SpaceX’s technology, and this summer Roscosmos announced plans to build rockets that surpass Musks.

He told a state news agency he was not impressed with the crew dragon’s water landing and called it “quite rough” and said his agency developed a methane rocket that will be able to be reused 100 times.

But the fact that a national space agency feels moved to compare itself with a company is undoubtedly a validation of NASA’s public-private strategy.

SpaceX’s emergence has also deprived Roscosmos of a valuable revenue stream.

The cost of round trips on Russian rockets had risen to about $ 85 million per astronaut, according to estimates last year.

Presidential transition

Transitions to the presidency are always a difficult time for NASA, and Joe Biden’s rise in January is not expected to be any different.

The agency has not yet received the tens of billions of dollars needed to complete the Artemis program from Congress.

Bridenstine has announced that he will resign to allow the new president to set his own space exploration goals.

So far, Biden has not commented on the 2024 timeline.

Democratic Party documents say they support NASA’s Moon and Mars ambitions, but also stress that the agency’s geoscientific division is being raised to better understand how climate change is affecting our planet.