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Heads up, earthlings: 5 reasons why you should pay attention to space this year



The space is connected again.

Nearly 50 years after Neil Armstrong captivated the Earth with his "giant leap for humanity" on the lunar surface, the world is once again paying attention to space travel.

Space tourism reached a new milestone in February. Space Force begins to take off. And a return to the moon is coming closer.

"This time we are going to proceed differently," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Wednesday about a lunar mission. "This time we will go with international partners, and we will go with business partners. (And) when we go to the moon, we will stay."

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In addition, NASA and SpaceX teamed up for a successful flight earlier this month, suggesting that US astronauts will no longer need Russian rockets to get to the lab in orbit.

"The coincidence of all sorts of space developments makes it a special year, starting with the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo," said space historian John Logsdon, referring to the lunar landing. of 1969 that had captivated the country half a century ago.

And that does not take into account the progress made on the ultimate goal of NASA: send humans to Mars.

This mission will likely remain in decades, especially with the decision proposed by the administration to postpone key work on its space launch system, which could also roll back the date of the first test flight. But the technological breakthroughs made this year could play an important role in the speed with which we must reach the red planet.

Here are five reasons why 2019 announces it as a milestone year for space travel:

Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time during its 4th powered flight.

MATT HARTMAN / AP

Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time during its 4th powered flight.

Space Tourism

It may not be the kind of spectacular breakthrough that brings humans closer to Mars.

But a Virgin Galactic rocket plane that flew over the Mojave Desert, California, up to the edge of space in February marked the farthest distance that a crewed vehicle has reached the limit of space since the end of the NASA space shuttle program in 2011.

The milestone says as much about the continued emergence of the commercial space industry as it is about the technology being developed. Private companies are encouraged to perform tasks and missions previously reserved for NASA, particularly in low Earth orbit.

Return to the moon

Eugene Cernan was the last astronaut to leave the surface of the moon in December 1972.

The Trump administration's decision to return to the moon began in 2017, but its efforts took shape in February when NASA announced that it was inviting companies to associate with the company. agency on specific aspects of a return, including the establishment of a "gateway". in the lunar orbit.

On Monday, the administration released its budget proposal for 2020 including $ 363 million to support the commercial development of a large lunar lander that can carry cargo, and then astronauts up to the surface of the moon. .

The prohibitive cost of a lander to transport astronauts from orbit to surface led to the cancellation of the Constellation program, which aimed to return to the moon. The cost of the latter company would be shared between international partners and aerospace companies.

Despite this momentum, it should take almost a decade – 2028 – before the next human steps on the moon.

"For me, the most important agreement in 2019 has been the increased commitment to a return to the moon, which will be the focus of the US government's action in the years to come, "said Logsdon. "And do it with commercial and international partnerships."

US President Donald Trump signs "Space Policy Directive 4" at the White House Oval Office.

AP

US President Donald Trump signs "Space Policy Directive 4" at the White House Oval Office.

Space force

A new branch of the army designed to focus on space threats was launched in February.

President Donald Trump has signed a directive to create another branch of the military to monitor the low Earth orbit and protect the United States from attacks from other countries, including China and Russia. Defense officials believe that both countries possess the capabilities and potential motives to pose a threat.

Congress still has to fund this idea, but that is part of the administration 's budget released on Monday. And a number of lawmakers have already subscribed to the plan.

The Trump administration is doing what it can now without Congressional approval, which remains divided on this idea. Legislators will ultimately determine the fate of the proposed force, as they must decide whether or not to authorize the establishment of a military branch and approve funds for the plan.

Astronauts at the space station

Nearly eight years after Atlantis' last NASA mission, the Americans may soon return to the space station with US rockets fired from US soil.

On March 8, following a five-day historical mission to the orbital lab, the successful launch of a small unmanned SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule off the coast of Florida makes it more likely the presence of Astronauts by the end of the year.

"This year, US astronauts will return to space aboard US rockets," Trump told a national audience during his annual State of the Union address in February.

Boeing, NASA's other commercial partners in the Commercial Crew program, is expected to launch its CST-100 Starliner test flight in April.

Much success depends on success – not just because it costs over US $ 80 million to US taxpayers every time an American astronaut has to travel to the lab in orbit. Last year, Bridenstine had virtually guaranteed the resumption of US missions by the end of 2019, saying it would be "without question".

At Wednesday's Senate hearing, Bridenstine stressed the importance of the mission.

"This will bring down costs, increase access, allow us to go to the International Space Station with more capacity, more people to do more experiments and reduce costs", was -he declares.

The lunar landing of 1969

All these developments are happening as we approach a historic anniversary: ​​the 50th anniversary of the first moonwalk in July.

NASA has already begun celebrating Apollo 11 with Commander Neil Armstrong, Command Pilot Michael Collins and Lunar Module Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. There is even a logo. Aldrin, the last surviving member of this mission, was recognized by Trump during the state of the Union.

For fans of the space program, this anniversary offers them a great opportunity to defend the greatness of America.

"We view the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo as an opportunity to introduce a new generation to what has happened in our lifetime," said Valerie Neal, director of the Department of History of Apollo. space at the Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space. CollectSpace, a website for space enthusiasts. "We hope to take this opportunity to spark that kind of enthusiasm and start thinking about what we can do in a similar way in the 21st century, whether in space or here on Earth."

– United States today


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