Human spaceflight is back in the United States. Since 2011 and the retirement of the space shuttles, Americans have been flying to space aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. But today, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket for NASA with the Crew Dragon capsule in a two-man test mission to the International Space Station.
I was happy to see the launch … though I wasn’t ambitious in terms of where I photographed it. Here on Florida’s Space Coast, we had massive crowds during a scrubbed attempt earlier this week, and during this plague, I preferred not to tangle with them. But the view was still good from my neighborhood along the Indian River Lagoon, where many people showed up just in time for lift-off.
My emotions are pretty strong when it comes to human spaceflight. I was at the landing strip at Kennedy Space Center when Columbia failed to make it home and worked long hours covering the aftermath and mourning the crew. Later that year, I went to Russia and Kazakhstan for Florida Today to cover Americans’ first full crew exchange via Soyuz, when the returning crew was briefly “lost” when it went off course in a ballistic landing. When they were found, I called back to my editor from Moscow’s mission control and could barely get out the words “They’re OK.” I’m well aware of the risk and deeply respect the astronauts who are willing to step up and face it for missions like these.
That said, I also believe strongly in uncrewed science missions, and I wish our country’s priorities included more funding to explore our solar system and beyond. The benefits are not just esoteric. What we learn goes to the heart of our own survival. Although there doesn’t seem to be much consideration of our future or our planet’s future these days.
This is a day to celebrate. And to remember that science helped get us here … and can help us go forward, too.