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America’s return to space: May 27 launch 10 years in the making

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday to prepare for a historic launch.

The space agency’s first manned mission since 2011 takes off May 27. It’s also the first manned launch with a privately built rocket that will dock at the International Space Station the next day.

The mission, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, is 10 years in the making.

“This is a new generation, a new era in human space flight,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

It’s a partnership that began in 2010 between the U.S. government and American companies as an idea to expand space exploration and transportation after the space shuttle program was retired in 2011.

In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing were awarded contracts to fly the astronauts into space and bring them home safely. SpaceX goes first this month; Boeing’s turn is scheduled for fall.

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell is going through a countdown of her own right now.

“I’m nervous now … not because I’m on camera but because I’m about to fly Bob and Doug,” she said. “There will be a little sense of relief when they’re in orbit. How’s that? I’ll feel more relief when they get to the station and I’ll start sleeping again when they’re back safely on the planet … on the Earth.”

The May 27 launch is just the beginning.

The goals are simple – and critical, although the scope has changed over time. Originally, it was to be a shorter mission. Now, it’s a little longer, and that means more training to fly Behnken and Hurley to the ISS and get them home safely.

Beyond that lies the exploration of the moon and Mars, and perhaps the newest frontier of all: creating commercial and marketing activities in space, most likely starting with additions to the ISS.

“This launch is the next step to increasing American, and really, human presence on board the lab … the ISS … it really is critical,” said Kirk Shireman, ISS program manager.

It’s critical because the ISS, which has already facilitated more than 2,900 scientific investigations for more than 4,000 researchers in 108 countries, is still the future despite its accomplished past.

It’s a new model for space exploration that makes NASA a customer of American technology that employs people in all 50 states and ultimately becomes more cost-effective.

“The idea is, in the short term, the commercial resupply missions have demonstrated cost savings. The commercial crew is going to demonstrate cost savings if you compare it to the space shuttle,” Bridenstine said.

A customer in the space race, NASA will be able to pick a vendor and negotiate a price for space exploration.

If you want to watch the May 27 launch, scheduled for liftoff at 4:32 p.m. EDT, NASA said to check it out from home. WINK News also has you covered. We’ll have an hour-long special on the launch that day at 4 p.m. You can also watch it on the WINK News app.

Reporter:Chris Cifatte
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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