Trump, NASA want SpaceX manned launch to be pivotal US triumph.

Russia's status as a space power will end with the start of NASA's commercial crew

By Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver

At a time when Americans could use a diversion from the agonies of medical science, political science and economics, this afternoon’s planned launch of the first U.S. astronauts into orbit in nearly a decade fits the bill.

For President Trump, who will be in Florida with Vice President Pence to witness the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule, and for NASA, the stakes are enormous. If things go as planned, it will be a triumph to be shared. If things go wrong, “the whole world stops,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said two years ago (The Washington Post).

In the parlance of public relations boasts, the United States says it will “usher in a new era of space flight,” reinvigorating manned missions for the first time since 2011, when NASA retired the space shuttle program. The Trump administration’s ambition to return to the moon by 2024, a plan that has not wowed congressional appropriators, could be bound up in what happens today. At a time when the government is throwing every borrowed dollar it has to stop a lethal virus and help rescue earth bound economies, the idea of going back to the moon, last visited by U.S. astronauts in 1972, may ebb as a priority.

But seven months ago, Trump enthused about the administration’s aim to revisit the moon in order to make a much more ambitious trip. “We’re going to the moon, and then we’re going to Mars. We’re launching from the moon most likely,” he said. “They seem to think that’s the best way of doing it, Jim,” Trump told the NASA administrator. “So, we’re launching from the moon.”

The SpaceX rocket, created by Elon Musk’s company, is designed to take two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley (pictured below with Musk and Bridenstine), to the International Space Station, a relatively routine trip in the context of Russia’s dominance as a commercial leader in space. The U.S. mission today is intended to help close that chapter on Moscow’s prowess (The Hill).

The Washington Post: Meet the SpaceX astronauts.

The launch also comes at a time when the administration is championing the creation of the Pentagon’s Space Force as a branch of the military prepared to put defensive assets and national security priorities assertively into space. The administration early this month released its first recruitment video for the Space Force, playing up the ambiguity of U.S. goals: “We have to imagine what will be imagined” (News3LV).

To watch the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, spectators have choices on live television, including Discovery Channel and Science Channel, beginning at 2 p.m. ET (Space.com).

In-person viewing may depend on how confident people feel about physical distancing during the coronavirus crisis (The Associated Press).

CNN: Everything you need to know about today’s planned launch.

CBS News: Musk, in an interview, said today’s launch will be “the culmination of a dream.”

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