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Politics For Trump and NASA, the stakes are enormous for upcoming flight with crew

21:42  23 may  2020
21:42  23 may  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

Trump considering attending rocket launch in Florida

  Trump considering attending rocket launch in Florida President Trump on Thursday said that he is considering attending a major rocket launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida next week. © Getty Images Trump considering attending rocket launch in Florida "I'm thinking about going," Trump told reporters at the White House Thursday afternoon before departing for a trip to Michigan to visit a Ford plant making ventilators. "That'll be next week, to the rocket launch. I hope you're all going to join me. I'd like to put you on the rocket and get rid of you for a while," the president quipped.

The upcoming launch of NASA astronauts will be a historic mission — the first launch of humans to orbit from U.S. soil since the space shuttle retired almost a decade ago.

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a window: President Trump listens as NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine explains NASA's covid-19 response April 24. (Anna Moneymaker/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock) President Trump listens as NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine explains NASA's covid-19 response April 24. (Anna Moneymaker/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

It’s also a make or break moment for the Trump administration.

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If it goes well, it would be a moment of triumph for an administration that boasts it is “renewing American leadership in space” and would no doubt end up in election-year campaign ads. If something goes wrong, it would be a staggering blow that could send the space agency reeling and jeopardize the White House’s signature mission to return astronauts to the moon by 2024.

#LaunchAmerica team gets 'go for launch' from NASA, SpaceX managers

  #LaunchAmerica team gets 'go for launch' from NASA, SpaceX managers NASA officials tell KHOU 11 News NASA and SpaceX managers have given the "go" for launch of the Demo-2 mission. The Launch Readiness Review for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission has concluded at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That Launch Readiness Review is a pre-launch safety inspection and logistics review held prior to the launch of all rockets. "The vehicle tested nicely in static fire," said NASA Commercial Program manager Kathy Lueders, adding the spacecraft fired for the full duration.She said the full crew launch day checkout went smoothly and ahead of schedule.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine came to the agency knowing the flight would likely happen on his watch and that the stakes would be enormous. During one of his very first news conferences, he addressed the risks, recalling the national devastation after the failures of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles, which together cost 14 lives.

NASA wants to have “the absolute safest program we possibly can have. The reason for that, of course, is because if we lose an astronaut, the whole world stops,” he said in 2018. “It doesn’t just mean that NASA stops doing human exploration for the next three years or more, as we saw after Columbia and Challenger. It means the president of the United States stops what he’s doing. … And presidents and prime ministers around the world stop what they’re doing. That’s how important this is to the entire world.”

#LaunchAmerica team gets 'go for launch' from NASA, SpaceX managers

  #LaunchAmerica team gets 'go for launch' from NASA, SpaceX managers NASA officials tell KHOU 11 News NASA and SpaceX managers have given the "go" for launch of the Demo-2 mission. The Launch Readiness Review for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission has concluded at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That Launch Readiness Review is a pre-launch safety inspection and logistics review held prior to the launch of all rockets. "The vehicle tested nicely in static fire," said NASA Commercial Program manager Kathy Lueders, adding the spacecraft fired for the full duration.She said the full crew launch day checkout went smoothly and ahead of schedule.

To this White House, space holds a special place — at once a frontier to explore, a domain that’s been militarized and an opportunity for economic expansion. It has moved aggressively on all fronts, reconstituting the National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Pence, speeding up efforts to return to the moon, standing up a new military branch, Space Force, and slashing regulations while promoting the growth of a commercial space industry.

Even some Democrats have praised the administration for making space a priority, and Bridenstine, a former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma who was confirmed by a narrow party-line vote, has earned admiration and respect from across the aisle.

So far, however, it remains to be seen whether any of the administration’s efforts will achieve the kind of success the Trump administration envisions. Despite the full force of the White House, and a pledge by Pence to get to the lunar surface “by any means necessary,” the Artemis lunar program is struggling to find support in Congress. Some Democrats have accused the White House of playing politics with the nation’s space program, by attempting to speed up a landing so that it would fall in Trump’s second term.

#LaunchAmerica team gets 'go for launch' from NASA, SpaceX managers

  #LaunchAmerica team gets 'go for launch' from NASA, SpaceX managers NASA officials tell KHOU 11 News NASA and SpaceX managers have given the "go" for launch of the Demo-2 mission. The Launch Readiness Review for NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission has concluded at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That Launch Readiness Review is a pre-launch safety inspection and logistics review held prior to the launch of all rockets. "The vehicle tested nicely in static fire," said NASA Commercial Program manager Kathy Lueders, adding the spacecraft fired for the full duration.She said the full crew launch day checkout went smoothly and ahead of schedule.

Critics say the Space Force is little more than a pointless exercise in bureaucratic reshuffling. And NASA’s effort to restore human spaceflight to United States soil, under NASA’s Commercial Crew program, has suffered years of delays and setbacks.

Trump has shown interest in space and said he’s “thinking about going” to the SpaceX launch. He’s praised the high-profile “space barons” like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who have started space companies. “Rich guys, they love rocket ships,” he said in 2018. “That’s good. That’s better than us paying for them.” (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

But he’s also sent confusing signs on his administration’s goals, tweeting last year that “NASA should NOT be talking about going to the Moon — We did that 50 years ago.” Officials later clarified that the statement that seemed to undercut his own administration’s plans to return to the lunar surface was really intended to push the idea of using the moon as a steppingstone to Mars.

But before it does any of that, NASA must show it can fly astronauts reliably to a much closer target — the International Space Station, in orbit some 240 miles high. A successful launch would be the culmination of a program launched by President Obama.

NASA's human spaceflight chief ousted just before big launch

  NASA's human spaceflight chief ousted just before big launch Douglas Loverro has served as the associate administrator for the human exploration and operations mission directorate for just seven months. He took over the job in October after his predecessor, William Gerstenmaier, was demoted and eventually left the agency. “Doug hit the ground running this year and has made significant progress in his time at NASA,” the note from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “His leadership of HEO has moved us closer to accomplishing our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024.

The commercial crew program, as it is called, was a risky proposition from the start — a bold experiment by NASA to outsource human space flight to the private sector that has led to an improbable moment in the history of America’s space program: two NASA astronauts strapping into SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, a spacecraft that has never before flown humans.

Now the stakes for the May 27 mission are even higher. On Monday, NASA’s head of human exploration, Douglas Loverro, abruptly resigned, a shocking development that has raised questions about the agency’s position to pull it off safely with yet another glaring vacancy at the top of its bureaucracy.

U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), the chair of the House space subcommittee, wrote on Twitter that she “was deeply concerned about this sudden resignation, especially eight days before the first scheduled launch of US astronauts on US soil in almost a decade.”

She added that under “this Administration, we’ve seen a pattern of abrupt departures that have disrupted our efforts at human space flight.” Loverro’s resignation came after William Gerstenmaier, the longtime head of human spaceflight, was demoted last year.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Tex.), chair of the House Science Committee, said in a statement she trusts Bridenstine "will ensure that the right decision is made as to whether or not to delay the launch attempt.”

SpaceX, NASA closely monitoring weather prior to historic astronaut launch

  SpaceX, NASA closely monitoring weather prior to historic astronaut launch SpaceX and NASA are closely monitoring the weather ahead of the historic launch of the Demo-2 mission, which is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday. © Provided by FOX News NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft; Former NASA astronaut Leroy Chiao joins ‘America’s Newsroom.’ NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are scheduled to launch from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A, which was also used for the Apollo and space shuttle programs.

The shake-up at NASA’s highest ranks was not the distraction NASA or the White House wanted as it looks to celebrate what would be a huge moment for the country. In the days leading up to the flight, the White House has talked in lofty terms about the significance of the flight and how it could help unify a country riven by a divisive election campaign and reeling from the pandemic.

At a meeting Tuesday of the reconstituted National Space Council, Pence said the launch would play a key part in “renewing American leadership in space.”

The mission represents “exactly the kind of leadership that has inspired our nation throughout my lifetime, and I know it is going to be a great inspiration to the American people when we see those rockets fire next week.”

President Trump even bragged recently that his administration has “reinvigorated” NASA, which he wrongly said “was dead as a door nail, but now it’s very much alive.”

Inside NASA, officials are cautiously optimistic about the test flight for its “Commercial Crew” program that would propel two veteran NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, to the International Space Station. But they also are keenly aware of the risks inherent in human spaceflight — especially on a spacecraft that has never before flown humans.

Should anything go wrong, it would not only be a blow to NASA’s Commercial Crew program, but to the White House’s plan to win congressional support to increase funding so NASA could return astronauts to the lunar surface on an accelerated schedule that moved up the landing by four years to 2024.

Russia: military helicopter crash near Moscow, no survivors

 Russia: military helicopter crash near Moscow, no survivors A Mi-8 helicopter from the Russian army crashed in the Moscow region on Tuesday. According to Russian authorities, the entire crew was killed in the accident. © AFP / OLGA MALTSEVA The crew died of injuries received during the emergency landing. Mi-8 helicopter of the Russian army has crashed in the Moscow region, causing the death of the crew, the Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday, refusing to say how many people were on board .

“I’m excited to see an American rocket launch from American soil,” Horn said in an interview before Loverro’s resignation. “But I recognize there is a lot at stake here.”

It’s been a long, difficult road to get to the point of launching humans again.

In 2014, the Obama administration awarded contracts to SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, following a program from the George W. Bush White House that hired private companies to fly cargo and supplies there.

Flying astronauts is a far more difficult task, and both Boeing and SpaceX have had to overcome challenges that delayed the first launches from 2017.

The program took an especially embarrassing hit late last year when the maiden launch of a Boeing spacecraft, which had no crews on board, went awry as soon as it reached orbit.

It was a wake-up call for NASA to better police the companies it had entrusted with flying its astronauts.

“NASA oversight was insufficient — that’s obvious,” Loverro said earlier this year.

The mishap puts even more pressure on the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

“It’s been a complex journey for SpaceX to get the mission to this level of readiness, and they are to be commended” said Paul Hill, a member of NASA’s safety advisory panel and the former director of mission operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Still, he urged against what he called “go fever” and to remain vigilant in the days leading up to the launch.

But despite all the high-profile attention — Pence is expected to be at the launch — Kathy Lueders, NASA’s commercial crew program manager, told the safety panel its decisions would all be made with safety in mind.

“We’re not going to rush,” she said. "And we’ll launch when we’re ready.”

St. Ann native Bob Behnken ready to make history with Wednesday's Space X launch .
A graduate of Pattonville High School and Washington University is going out of this world. On Wednesday, Bob Behnken, a native of St. Ann, will become one of the first two U.S. astronauts to launch a mission from American soil in nearly a decade. Behnken will be joined by fellow astronaut Doug Hurley aboard the Space X Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket. They're scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral for a mission to the International Space Station. Your browser does not support this video require(["binding"], function (binding) { binding("wcVideoPlayer", "#video_player_ded7b14c-851a-442e-ab66-00931fac1f3c").

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