With the upcoming launch of the first SpaceX Crewed Dragon from the Kennedy Space Center scheduled for May 27, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made an extraordinary request according to The Verge.
“At the end of May, NASA astronauts are slated to launch to space from the United States once again, after nearly a decade of launching on Russian rockets from Kazakhstan — but NASA does not want members of the public to travel to see the mission in person. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is urging people to stay home and watch the historic mission online because of safety concerns associated with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”
The launch of the Crewed Dragon, with astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 is slated to be a historic event in the history of space exploration.
It will be the first time in nine years that Americans will fly to the International Space Station from American soil in an American spacecraft. The Russian monopoly for human spaceflight will be broken.
Moreover, the flight will usher in a new era for spaceflight. NASA will be flying the Crewed Dragon as a customer rather than an owner. SpaceX, the upstart spaceflight company owned by South African born Elon Musk, will be in charge. The launch will be the debut of what will be the first privately-owned spaceline, with world-historic implications.
By comparison, the Crewed Dragon flight will not be quite like the launch of Apollo 11 to the moon, which is unique in the annals of history. It will be more like the first flight of the space shuttle Columbia, with astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen on board, on April 12, 1981.
Columbia flew a little less than six years after the previous American human spaceflight that as part of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project. This time the spaceflight gap has been nine years, since the last space shuttle flight in 2011.
In a world without the coronavirus pandemic, the Kennedy Space Center would be able to expect perhaps a million people crowding the nearby beaches and the causeway. They would be treated to one of the most glorious sights that humans have ever produced, the launch of a rocket containing human beings into space.
President Trump would have very likely seen the launch from the VIP bleachers along with other dignitaries and invited guests. On one side, Bridenstine would likely sit, explaining some of the details of the launch.
Seated on the president’s other side, Elon Musk would vie for his attention. With the launch having been accomplished and Hurley and Behnken on their way to the ISS, one would not be surprised if Trump would hurry to one of his famous rallies, likely in Orlando, Florida, and ignite the crowd with news of America’s return to spaceflight.
But we live in the world of the coronavirus and thus situations in which social distancing is not possible has to be avoided at all costs. Bridenstine has thus urged everyone to stay home and watch the event on television. People will see more but experience less. Such is yet another disappointment that the worldwide pandemic has wrought.
The question arises, will people obey Bridenstine and stay at home. NASA Watch blogger Keith Cowing has his doubts.
“OK, so what happens when the Governor of Florida starts to push hard to open more things up – like the beaches around KSC? What happens if the White House decides that this launch is something that they want people to cheer on? NASA and the White House have been hyping the launch Americans in American rockets from American soil again thing for years. I have seen launches from just about every location around the Cape and there is no way you are going to enforce meaningful social distancing on the causeways or beaches. People are going to want to see this. Stay tuned.”
Excellent questions. The commercial crew program started under President George W. Bush was continued (more or less) by President Barack Obama, but now will be consummated under President Donald Trump. 2020 is an election year and Trump, being the consummate showman, might not be able to resist.
Of course, the launch could be turned to advantage if free testing and other services were to be provided on-site. More people will know whether they have, don’t have, or have had the coronavirus. Those who have it can be turned away and directed to home or to treatment. Everyone else will be able to enjoy the greatest show on or off the Earth.