While this is not an easy moment in history, it might actually be the ideal time to launch a crewed mission to space, astronauts and space exploration experts say.
From a pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide to civil rights issues in the United States, this is a difficult time for many. So, it might seem odd or inopportune for SpaceXand NASA to launch the Demo-2 mission, which is sending veteran NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.
The mission, which launched into orbit Saturday (May 30), was originally set to lift off Wednesday (May 27), but bad weather delayed its liftoff.
Full coverage: SpaceX’s historic Demo-2 astronaut launch explained
Demo-2 “is really a different flight” because of the difficult circumstances during which it is taking off, former NASA astronaut and current senior advisor of space programs at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space museum Mike Massimino told Space.com May 20. But, he added, “If there was ever a time when the world needed some good news, I think this is it.”
Massimino said that he hopes the whole world will be watching for this historic flight, which will be the first crewed mission to launch from U.S. soil to orbit in nearly a decade, since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011.
“I think it’s gonna be a good diversion for people and a real positive reminder of what we’re able to do as a country,” Massimino said. “I think it [the Demo-2 launch] comes at a time where people are looking for something to stand up and applaud about, and I think this is one of those things. So I think it comes at a very good time.”
This isn’t the first time that a crewed launch has been attempted during a state of unrest in America. Throughout NASA’s Apollo program, civil rights violations, protests, the Vietnam War and other issues plunged the country into chaos. For many, watching humans launch to space and walk on the moon provided an escape and inspiration during dark times.
“This is not ‘launch NASA.’ It’s not ‘launch SpaceX.’ It’s ‘launch America.’ This is America’s launch,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a news conference Friday (May 29).
Others in the space sector also hope that this mission might also provide inspiration. “Our hope and prayer for tomorrow is to inspire the next generation and to give hope for many people who need it right now. And also to unite our country and the world,” NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard added in the same news conference.
Current NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren chimed in as well. “My vision for the future is that this ignites that next generation of spaceflight. I look forward to seeing Artemis take the first woman and the next man to the lunar surface,” he said during the conference today. (Artemis is NASA’s program of crewed lunar exploration, which is working to land two astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2024.)
“I remember when I was in second grade, watching the space shuttle launch, my teacher wheeled a television into our classroom. And that inspired me to recognize that this job of exploration was a possibility for me,” he added. “And tomorrow’s launch is going to do that for our next generation of scientists, explorers and astronauts. And it’s that generation that’s going to take us to the moon, to Mars and beyond.”