Libération (France): NASA plans to get the US into orbit with Crew Dragon

American astronauts on Board an American ship, which will be launched by the American rocket American territory: it hasn’t been for nine years! If all goes according to plan and will not have adverse weather conditions, Wednesday night in Florida will be a historic and symbolic start: the U.S. return to space on its own. The long-awaited restoration of independence.

The last American launch took place in 2011: the Shuttle Atlantis for the last time delivered cargo to the International space station. Build a huge scientific base in orbit then only ended after 13 years of flying the shuttles, which were delivered by the module per year. These American vehicles could land on a runway like a plane. They have been used since 1981, deteriorated, were very expensive and dangerous. No other spacecraft twice did not exterminate the entire crew of seven: Challenger in 1986 (during takeoff) and the Columbia in 2003 (when returning to Earth). Bush signed a decree on the termination of their usage in 2004, paving the way for the development of new devices for the new era. It was necessary not only to ensure the delivery of people and cargo to the ISS, but also to consider the return to the moon.

Science fiction

Pending the results of a new American program (delay amounted to several years), NASA entrusted their astronauts Russia. After the cancellation of the Shuttle and Soyuz are the only spacecraft that was able to deliver people into space (not counting the Chinese capsule the “Shenzhou,” but the Chinese are not participating in the ISS and are responsible for their own stations). The Russian space Agency has become the official carrier of astronauts to the ISS and back, providing space in three uncomfortable chairs Russian (at least one) American, and (sometimes) Europeans or Japanese. In a comfortable monopoly situation, Russia could raise tariffs at its own discretion. To 2010 round-trip ticket to the ISS on the “Union” cost reasonable 20-25 million dollars, but after the failure of the Shuttle prices have gone up: 40 million, 50, 60 and even more… Today NASA is paying 81 million for one seat. A lot of money.

Ending this dependence is due to Boeing and SpaceX, two private subcontractors of NASA, which chose to develop a new American machine. Initially, the first flight to orbit was scheduled for 2015, but in the implementation of the program there was a huge delay in the inevitable partnership of public and private actors on such a sensitive project: once on Board there will be people, no room for error.

SpaceX started development of the cargo ship Dragon to supply the ISS air, water, clothes, food and scientific equipment. Further, the apparatus served as the basis for the transport vessel. An improved version of its Crew Dragon looks like from a sci-Fi movie: it seems as sleek and futuristic as “Union” — the old and bulky. In the first flight on Wednesday will depart just two astronauts: Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley. If the ship successfully to orbit and will dock with the ISS, it will pass “qualification” and can quickly begin regular flights for crew change. In August, he needs to send four astronauts (maximum capacity), three Americans and one Japanese man: $ 55 million for each — it looks like a “low-cost” from SpaceX.

As for the ship Cockpit from Boeing, he’s not so good. In December his qualification flight without crew ended propranalol since he was returned to Earth instead of docking with the ISS. So we had to start everything from the beginning, and the first flight crew will take place no earlier than after a year. The cost of development is also a cause for criticism: the report of the chief Inspectorate of NASA indicates that the Agency is “overpaid” Boeing.

The Crew Dragon launch is scheduled for 16:33 launch site Kennedy in Florida, and so far things couldn’t be better. The Falcon 9 rocket stands proudly on the pad placed on her on this occasion, the old red NASA logo (used from 1975 to 1992). “All teams are ready, — said Tuesday Kathryn Lueders program Manager, commercial flight NASA. — Now the last thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather”. Florida rains, and, according to the latest projections, there are only coronarienne the probability that the sky will be clean enough to take off as scheduled. The situation is gradually getting better, however, you must consider the weather conditions in 50 points an emergency landing in case of problems during takeoff or premature separation of the rocket. In other words, serious problems no, but the start may be delayed or postponed. “Now I really only care about weather, and that’s a good sign!” says Hans Koenigsmann from SpaceX.