Astronauts have not blasted off to space from American soil in nearly nine years. But tomorrow, that finally changes. SpaceX will launch its first ever crewed mission, Crew Dragon Demo-2, tomorrow at 4:30 pm Eastern Time. The rocket will ferry NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Benkhen to their scheduled rotation on the International Space Station.
This is a big deal. It’s especially a big deal if you work in a space-related field, like I do, but it should be a big deal to everyone. In 2011, this could have been the news story of the week. Maybe even of the month if it was a slow month.
I don’t even remember the last time we had a slow month in the news media. I think it was in 2015.
The United States has not had the capability to launch our own astronauts into space since the retirement of the Space Shuttle Atlantis in 2011. Ever since, every astronaut to go into space has had to hitch a ride with the Russians.* Elon Musk, although he’s not the only person in the game anymore (Boeing is planning to do it next year), was arguably single-handedly pushing us in this direction for years, and that work is finally paying off.
The mission will go on tomorrow, weather permitting. You’ll be able to see it live on NASA TV, SpaceX’s live stream, and on the Discovery and Science Channels. So if you’re stuck at home for quarantine, or if you otherwise have some time to set aside, be sure to check out this historic event.**
*Aside from a few Virgin Galactic tourists on sub-orbit flights, and those only by FAA standards, not international standards.
**Full disclosure: I am a postdoc at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. However, this post represents solely my own opinions and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of NASA or the United States Government.