Space is hip again.
Nearly 50 years after Neil Armstrong captivated Earth by taking his “giant leap for mankind” on the lunar surface, the world is paying attention again to space travel.
Space tourism reached a new milestone in February. The Space Force is starting to lift off. And a return to the moon is getting closer.
“This time we’re going to do it differently,” Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on Wednesday about a lunar mission. “This time we’re going to go with international partners. And we’re going to go with commercial partners. (And) when we go to the moon, we’re going to stay.”
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In addition, Nasa and SpaceX teamed up on a successful flight earlier this month that makes it likely US astronauts will no longer need Russian rockets to reach the orbiting lab.
“The coincidence of all sorts of space developments makes it a special year, starting with the Apollo 50th anniversary,” said space historian John Logsdon, referring to the 1969 moon landing that captivated the country a half-century ago.
And that doesn’t count the progress being made on Nasa’s ultimate goal: sending humans to Mars.
That mission likely remains decades away, especially with the administration’s proposed decision to postpone key work on its Space Launch System that also could push back the date of the first test flight. But the technological breakthroughs achieved this year could play an important role in how quickly it takes to reach the Red Planet.
Here are five reasons why 2019 is shaping up to be a momentous year for space travel:
It might not be the kind of splashy breakthrough that gets humans closer to Mars.
But a Virgin Galactic rocket plane that soared over California’s Mojave desert to the edge of space in February marked the farthest a crewed vehicle reached the boundary of space since the end of Nasa’s space shuttle programme in 2011.
The milestone says as much about the continued emergence of the commercial space industry as it does about the technology being developed. Private companies are being encouraged to perform the tasks and missions once left solely to Nasa, especially in low-Earth orbit.
Going back to the moon
The last astronaut to leave the moon’s surface was Eugene Cernan in December 1972.
The Trump administration’s…
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