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NASA, SpaceX bringing astronaut launches back to home turf

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. astronauts are about to blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil. And for the first time in the history of human spaceflight, a private company is running the show. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is the conductor and NASA the customer…

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. astronauts are about to blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil. And for the first time in the history of human spaceflight, a private company is running the show. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is the conductor and NASA the customer as businesses begin chauffeuring astronauts to the International Space Station. The curtain rises next Wednesday with the scheduled liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule with two NASA astronauts, a test flight years in the making. The drama unfolds from the exact spot where men flew to the moon and the last space shuttle soared from Kennedy Space Center. While Florida’s Space Coast has seen plenty of launches since the shuttle’s farewell tour in 2011 — even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic — they were for satellites, robotic explorers and space station supplies. The only route to orbit for astronauts was on Russian rockets. NASA’s newest test pilots, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, are launching from home turf with SpaceX presiding over the countdown. “Getting a chance again to see human spaceflight in our own backyard,” Behnken said. “That’s the thing that’s most exciting for me.” Sign up for the Early Bird Brief Get the military’s most comprehensive news and information every morning (please select a country)United StatesUnited KingdomAfghanistanAlbaniaAlgeriaAmerican SamoaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBoliviaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of TheCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’ivoireCroatiaCubaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuamGuatemalaGuineaGuinea-bissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMarshall IslandsMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMicronesia, Federated States ofMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNetherlands AntillesNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorthern Mariana IslandsNorwayOmanPakistanPalauPalestinian Territory, OccupiedPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalPuerto RicoQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRwandaSaint HelenaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and The GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbia and MontenegroSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and The South Sandwich IslandsSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwan, Province of ChinaTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-lesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUnited States Minor Outlying IslandsUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuelaViet NamVirgin Islands, BritishVirgin Islands, U.S.Wallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabwe Subscribe × By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Early Bird Brief. This combination of undated photos made available by SpaceX shows astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. (SpaceX via AP) The cosmic-size shift to private companies allows NASA to zero in on deep space travel. The space agency is busting to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 under orders from the White House, a deadline looking increasingly unlikely even as three newly chosen commercial teams rush to develop lunar landers. Mars also beckons. “We’re building momentum toward a much more exciting future,” said John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and a professor emeritus. The Russian launch site in Kazakhstan is out of the way and out of sight. Launching crews again from Florida is sure to fire up the public, Logsdon noted. Adding to the appeal is the flash generated by Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, designer and founder who shot his red Tesla Roadster into outer space two years ago during the first flight of a supersized Falcon Heavy rocket. In a touch of Musk showmanship — he also runs the electric car company — Hurley and Behnken will ride to the launch pad in a gull-winged Tesla Model X, white with black trim just like the astronauts’ spacesuits and the rocket itself. The Dragon riders appreciate Musk’s hands-on approach. “On more than one occasion he has looked both Bob and I right in the eye and said, ‘Hey, if there’s anything you guys are not comfortable with or that you’re seeing, please tell me and we’ll fix it.’” Hurley said. In this April 10, 2020, photo made available by SpaceX, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes final processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.(SpaceX via AP) While trumpeting the return of astronaut launches, NASA is urging spectators to stay away because of the pandemic. But beaches near Kennedy are now open, and the local sheriff is welcoming visitors even though inside the space center, the number of guests will be severely limited. Among the exceptions: both astronaut wives — who have flown in space themselves — and their young sons. Vice President Mike Pence, chairman of the National Space Council, is also going, and President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he’s thinking of attending, too. Liftoff is set for 4:33 p.m. EDT Wednesday. “It’s going to be a great inspiration to the country next week to see you two go aloft from the Kennedy Space Center,” Pence told the astronauts Tuesday. It will be just the fifth time NASA astronauts strap into a spanking new U.S. space system for liftoff — following Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle. NASA owned and operated all those spacecraft, built by contractors to NASA’s precise specifications. The commercial crew program, by contrast, calls for private businesses to handle and own it all, with input and oversight by NASA. Only three countries have launched humans — Russia, the U.S. and China in that order — making SpaceX’s attempt all the more impressive. “My heart is sitting right here,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said, pointing to her throat at a news conference earlier this month, “and I think it’s going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the International Space Station.” In this March 19, 2020, photo, astronauts Doug Hurley, foreground, and Bob Behnken work in SpaceX’s flight simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (SpaceX via AP) Hurley, 53, a retired Marine, and Behnken, 49, an Air Force colonel, will spend one to four months aboard the orbiting lab, currently down to a three-man, half-size crew. They’ll lend a hand with experiments and possibly spacewalks, before ending their mission with an Atlantic splashdown, a scene not seen for a half-century. As liftoff looms, the two are hesitant to consider their place in space history. “It seems premature until we’ve pulled it off,” Behnken said. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the U.S. needs its own access to the space station in order to take full advantage of the $100 billion lab — the sooner, the better, pandemic or no. When shuttle Atlantis soared for the final time on July 8, 2011, with Hurley as the pilot under commander Chris Ferguson, NASA envisioned a gap of three to five years. Ferguson now works for Boeing, the other company hired by NASA in 2014 to transport crews. Plagued with software problems, Boeing’s Starliner capsule is still a year from launching with Ferguson and two NASA astronauts. While disappointed Boeing is trailing, Ferguson said he’ll cheer Hurley and Behnken from the sidelines. The SpaceX duo will lay claim to a small U.S. flag that flew on NASA’s first and last shuttle flights, and was left on the station by Ferguson and Hurley for the first commercial crew to arrive. “Regardless of who might get there first, it’s a win for America,” Ferguson said. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is rolled out of the horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP) NASA’s commercial crew effort builds on industry’s space station shipments, now in the eighth year. SpaceX led the field with its original Dragon cargo capsules. Musk’s California-based company was also first out the gate with its souped-up, tricked-out Dragon crew capsule. Crew Dragon made its debut early last year, launching successfully to the space station with a test dummy named Ripley after the “Alien” films’ hardcore heroine. But the next month, the capsule exploded on the engine test stand at Cape Canaveral, a monumental setback. Boeing’s Starliner capsule made its premiere last December with Rosie the mannequin, but ended up in the wrong orbit. Boeing will repeat the demo this fall, on its own dime, before putting Ferguson and the others on board. Wayne Hale, a retired space shuttle flight director and program manager who serves on the NASA Advisory Council, views SpaceX’s upcoming astronaut flight as an experiment with lessons carrying over to Artemis, NASA’s new-generation, moon-landing effort. Hale and others contend SpaceX and Boeing could be flying astronauts by now if Congress had provided more funding early on. The contracts with NASA are worth billions. NASA’s inspector general has estimated the per-seat cost for SpaceX at $55 million, while the price of a Russian Soyuz seat has averaged $80 million in recent years. Boeing’s Starliner will top that: an estimated $90 million a pop. An earlier NASA test pilot, Robert Crippen, wishes at least one space shuttle had kept flying until a replacement was ready. The longest previous hiatus between astronaut launches stretched six years — from Apollo-Soyuz in 1975 to the shuttle’s debut in 1981 with Crippen and John Young. Crippen also wishes the shuttle’s replacement was more futuristic-looking and landed on a runway. The capsule has the familiar cone shape, but inside touchscreens replace the customary, countless switches. The walls are gleaming white, not dull gray. There’s even a curtained-off toilet. It has built-in escape engines designed to fling the capsule off the rocket in an emergency, from the time Hurley and Behnken strap in until they reach orbit. “This crew will have a good escape system,” Crippen said. “John and I had our ejection seats, but they wouldn’t have done much for us on liftoff,” sending them straight through the rockets’ trail of fire. A capsule is generally simpler and thus safer than a winged spacecraft like the shuttle, Hurley and Behnken noted. In terms of launch power, the relatively small Falcon 9 has far less than the space shuttle did, another layer of safety. But it’s still just the second flight of the crew capsule, and “the statistics will tell you that’s riskier than the 15th flight or 20th flight of the vehicle,” said Hurley, a former fighter pilot. At the suggestion of its technicians, SpaceX added photos of Hurley and Behnken to every work order as a constant reminder that lives — not just freight — are at stake. “I don’t think I need to remind my employees how important this is,” Shotwell, the company president, said. “They remind themselves.” The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Memorial for ‘Fallen 7′ Jarheads Motorcycle Club bikers killed in 2019 crash unveiled

Two years after seven motorcyclists died in a collision with a pickup truck, a granite monument honors their memory in New Hampshire. The Jarheads Motorcycle Club, made up of U.S. Marine Corps veterans and their spouses, unveiled the memorial near the crash site on Route 2 in Randolph, New Hampshire, on Saturday. The victims of…

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Two years after seven motorcyclists died in a collision with a pickup truck, a granite monument honors their memory in New Hampshire. The Jarheads Motorcycle Club, made up of U.S. Marine Corps veterans and their spouses, unveiled the memorial near the crash site on Route 2 in Randolph, New Hampshire, on Saturday. The victims of the June 21, 2019, crash were members of the club and were from New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Volodymyr Zhukovskyy, 25, of West Springfield, Massachusetts, faces multiple counts of negligent homicide, manslaughter, driving under the influence and reckless conduct in the crash. He’s been in jail since then and has pleaded not guilty. He faces trial later in 2021. Two years ago, seven people lost their lives in what was described as one of the worst crashes in New Hampshire’s history. Today we take take a moment, reflect and honor the seven lives that were lost. ♥ pic.twitter.com/Hlh3Pulp9S— WMUR TV (@WMUR9) June 21, 2021 In addition to their names and reference to the group as “The Fallen Seven,” the monument has the U.S. Marine Corps and Jarheads logos, along with “Never Forget.” Gov. Chris Sununu tweeted Monday, “we pause today to pay our respects to those lost too soon, their families, the survivors, and to the first responders. We will never forget.” The seven victims were: Michael Ferazzi, 62, of Contoocook, New Hampshire; Albert Mazza Jr., 59, of Lee, New Hampshire; Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, Rhode Island; Jo-Ann and Edward Corr, both 58, of Lakeville, Massachusetts; Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord, New Hampshire; and Aaron Perry, 45, of Farmington, New Hampshire.

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Guard soldiers may lose training if not reimbursed for Capitol mission

The National Guard could cut training as soon as July unless Congress passes emergency legislation reimbursing the cost of the Capitol security mission, Army leadership told a Senate Appropriations Committee subpanel Tuesday morning. The four-month response to the Jan. 6 riots reportedly cost more than $500 million, depleting the Guard’s operational and training funds. “Without…

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The National Guard could cut training as soon as July unless Congress passes emergency legislation reimbursing the cost of the Capitol security mission, Army leadership told a Senate Appropriations Committee subpanel Tuesday morning. The four-month response to the Jan. 6 riots reportedly cost more than $500 million, depleting the Guard’s operational and training funds. “Without these resources [reimbursed], the Guard…will find themselves with training issues,” warned Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. She indicated that the force has already postponed some training and could begin cancelling training events as soon as July, due to concerns over violating federal law that bars spending in excess of the allotted budget. Wormuth’s concerns echoed those of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told senators Thursday that a reimbursement failure will impact the Guard’s ability “in the near term to be able to train and adequately prepare.” The National Guard Association of the United States also sounded the alarm on the topic last week, citing a National Guard Bureau whitepaper that highlighted the need for reimbursement. If an Aug. 1 funding deadline passes without Congress authorizing reimbursement, annual trainings, drills and individual schools will be cancelled, the NGAUS release stated. Sign up for the Army Times Daily News Roundup Don’t miss the top Army stories, delivered each afternoon (please select a country)United StatesUnited KingdomAfghanistanAlbaniaAlgeriaAmerican SamoaAndorraAngolaAnguillaAntarcticaAntigua and BarbudaArgentinaArmeniaArubaAustraliaAustriaAzerbaijanBahamasBahrainBangladeshBarbadosBelarusBelgiumBelizeBeninBermudaBhutanBoliviaBosnia and HerzegovinaBotswanaBouvet IslandBrazilBritish Indian Ocean TerritoryBrunei DarussalamBulgariaBurkina FasoBurundiCambodiaCameroonCanadaCape VerdeCayman IslandsCentral African RepublicChadChileChinaChristmas IslandCocos (Keeling) IslandsColombiaComorosCongoCongo, The Democratic Republic of TheCook IslandsCosta RicaCote D’ivoireCroatiaCubaCyprusCzech RepublicDenmarkDjiboutiDominicaDominican RepublicEcuadorEgyptEl SalvadorEquatorial GuineaEritreaEstoniaEthiopiaFalkland Islands (Malvinas)Faroe IslandsFijiFinlandFranceFrench GuianaFrench PolynesiaFrench Southern TerritoriesGabonGambiaGeorgiaGermanyGhanaGibraltarGreeceGreenlandGrenadaGuadeloupeGuamGuatemalaGuineaGuinea-bissauGuyanaHaitiHeard Island and Mcdonald IslandsHoly See (Vatican City State)HondurasHong KongHungaryIcelandIndiaIndonesiaIran, Islamic Republic ofIraqIrelandIsraelItalyJamaicaJapanJordanKazakhstanKenyaKiribatiKorea, Democratic People’s Republic ofKorea, Republic ofKuwaitKyrgyzstanLao People’s Democratic RepublicLatviaLebanonLesothoLiberiaLibyan Arab JamahiriyaLiechtensteinLithuaniaLuxembourgMacaoMacedonia, The Former Yugoslav Republic ofMadagascarMalawiMalaysiaMaldivesMaliMaltaMarshall IslandsMartiniqueMauritaniaMauritiusMayotteMexicoMicronesia, Federated States ofMoldova, Republic ofMonacoMongoliaMontserratMoroccoMozambiqueMyanmarNamibiaNauruNepalNetherlandsNetherlands AntillesNew CaledoniaNew ZealandNicaraguaNigerNigeriaNiueNorfolk IslandNorthern Mariana IslandsNorwayOmanPakistanPalauPalestinian Territory, OccupiedPanamaPapua New GuineaParaguayPeruPhilippinesPitcairnPolandPortugalPuerto RicoQatarReunionRomaniaRussian FederationRwandaSaint HelenaSaint Kitts and NevisSaint LuciaSaint Pierre and MiquelonSaint Vincent and The GrenadinesSamoaSan MarinoSao Tome and PrincipeSaudi ArabiaSenegalSerbia and MontenegroSeychellesSierra LeoneSingaporeSlovakiaSloveniaSolomon IslandsSomaliaSouth AfricaSouth Georgia and The South Sandwich IslandsSpainSri LankaSudanSurinameSvalbard and Jan MayenSwazilandSwedenSwitzerlandSyrian Arab RepublicTaiwan, Province of ChinaTajikistanTanzania, United Republic ofThailandTimor-lesteTogoTokelauTongaTrinidad and TobagoTunisiaTurkeyTurkmenistanTurks and Caicos IslandsTuvaluUgandaUkraineUnited Arab EmiratesUnited KingdomUnited StatesUnited States Minor Outlying IslandsUruguayUzbekistanVanuatuVenezuelaViet NamVirgin Islands, BritishVirgin Islands, U.S.Wallis and FutunaWestern SaharaYemenZambiaZimbabwe Subscribe × By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Army Times Daily News Roundup. Although the House already passed a Capitol security bill that includes $521 million in reimbursement for the National Guard, it also included $200 million to establish a permanent Guard quick reaction force. Republican lawmakers and NGAUS officials have repeatedly spoken against such a mission. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville seemed to push back against the idea, too, when a lawmaker asked if a permanent military security task force was “appropriate.” “My best military advice,” he said, “is law enforcement should be conducted by law enforcement agencies, and the military should be the last resort when it comes to loss of law enforcement.” McConville and Wormuth had little to say, though, about the proposed end strength and top line cuts in President Joe Biden’s budget request for the Army. Instead, the two leaders emphasized to lawmakers that the service’s key modernization priorities remained funded despite “tough decisions.” The chief of staff expressed concern in April that the Army already had too few troops to meet its requirements. That was before the budget request. “Success can only be assured through continued transformation,” said Wormuth. “The Army has already made — and will continue to make — tough decisions to ensure the best use of resources to adapt to and stay ahead of the capabilities of our adversaries.”

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FAA and Air Force sign agreement on commercial launches from Space Force bases

WASHINGTON — The Deptment of the Air Force signed an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration designed to eliminate red tape affecting commercial rocket launches at U.S. Space Force ranges, the agencies announced June 21.The two parties said the memorandum finished June 15 removes duplicative processes and approvals for commercial space activities originating from or…

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WASHINGTON — The Deptment of the Air Force signed an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration designed to eliminate red tape affecting commercial rocket launches at U.S. Space Force ranges, the agencies announced June 21.The two parties said the memorandum finished June 15 removes duplicative processes and approvals for commercial space activities originating from or returning to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Essentially, the agreement states that the FAA will accept Department of the Air Force safety rules and processes as long as they satisfy FAA regulations. In return, the Air Force will accept FAA licensing decisions for commercial launches and not impose its own requirements for the flight and reentry parts of a launch, unless they impact national security space activities.“Assured access to space is vital to our national security,” said acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth in a joint press release with FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “The launch licensing standards provided in the agreement will support a rapidly expanding commercial launch sector and strengthen our space industrial base, bolstering our economy and enhancing our security as a nation.”“Building a streamlined regulatory approach for commercial space activities at these federal launch sites is the right thing to do for public safety and U.S. competitiveness,” added Dickson. “This agreement will help the burgeoning U.S. commercial space industry grow even faster and continue to lead the world in safety and innovation.”The agreement will help cooperation between the two government bodies in responding to commercial requests for relief from safety regulations, conducting environmental reviews, and publishing launch activity materials. The six-page document replaces the last memorandum of agreement between the two organizations, signed in 2014.Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and Vandenberg Space Force Base each have four FAA-licensed commercial launch providers operating on-site. Together, the two ranges supported 24 of the 39 commercial space launches licensed by the FAA in 2020.The announcement comes in the middle of the Space Force’s reorganization of its entire launch enterprise in anticipation of a growing launch cadence at the ranges involved. Earlier this year, the Space Force redesignated the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida as space launch deltas, which operators say flatten communications and eliminate an unnecessary echelon of command.On a broader scale, the Space Force is planning to unify its launch enterprise — launch operations, range operations and acquisitions — under a single office within its new field command: Space Systems Command. Under that construct, the SSC deputy commander will oversee all launch activities and will be known as the Assured Access to Space leader within the force. Space Systems Command is expected to replace the Space and Missile Systems Center as the Space Force’s primary acquisitions organization later this summer, after Congress approves a general to lead the new field command.Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.

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