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A SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket is ready to bring two men to the international space station. Is this the return of American manned space travel?
On 19 Januari 2020 a Falcon-9 was launched to test the escape mechanism of the capsule. (Photo: SpaceX)

A SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket is ready to bring two men to the international space station. Is this the return of American manned space travel?

Liever Nederlands

Update at the end of this article

Wednesday evening 22:33 Dutch time, the Crew Dragon is to take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to link up with the international space station (ISS) about 19 hours later.

What makes this launch so special? It seems to be the return of American manned spaceflight, but in the space-age style of Elon Musk. How does Professor Pieter Visser look at this? He is Departmental Head of Astrodynamics and Space Missions at the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering.

NASA Live: official stream of NASA TV

Are you going to watch tonight?
"Probably, but to be honest, I hadn't thought about it. I did read last week that for the first time in nine years, America will bring people back into space with its own spaceship. But by then so many things had come up that it had slipped my mind. It’s a little embarrassing."

BBC News calls it a historic flight. Is that how you see it?
"There are some new things about this flight. It is the first time a private party, SpaceX, has developed a capsule and the associated launcher with public money to bring people into space. That‘s historic as there’s no longer any need for a government organisation to do that."

On the pictures that have been released, the cabin and the suits look very sleek and futuristic. Is this a new generation of space technology?
"Space technology always lags behind the latest technology because it‘s first tested so extensively. The technology has to be extremely safe. There are extensive test programmes, and they take years. This flight could have taken place years ago. So the technology that you send into space is therefore certainly not the very latest. But compared to the previous capsules, it’s very modern. We know that Elon Musk and his companies pay a lot of attention to appearance and design. It seems as if this is a deluxe version of a manned capsule. It is also quite large. If I’ve understood correctly, it can hold up to seven people. So it will be business class travel for the two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley."

Assuming that the return journey to the International Space Station goes well. What's the next step?
"We‘ll probably see multiple flights to the ISS. A Japanese billionaire has now booked a flight around the moon. It will be a bit like Apollo 8 which flew around the moon at the time. SpaceX is promoting space tourism, and there are already paying customers. You can call that revolutionary, but it’s not as groundbreaking as the lunar landings of 50 years ago. So really there’s not been that much progress."

Definitely no progress is the urgent request not to come and see the launch. Normally, beaches and bridges around the island are full with half a million people wanting to experience the violence of the launch up-close. Because of corona, NASA has asked them to virtually experience the launch, like everything else lately.

Update 28 May 09:25

The launch was postponed at the last moment due to bad weather conditions. The crew had been in the capsule for a few hours. Saturday 30 May at 21:22  Dutch time a new attempt will follow.

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