BY ZENAIDA KOTALA | MAY 25, 2020
The Space X mission scheduled for May 27 has captured the nation’s imagination because it is the first launch from U.S. soil to carry astronauts into space since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011.
American astronauts have hitched rides to the International Space Station aboard Soyuz capsules in partnership with the Russian space program since then. All those missions are launched out of Kazakhstan, says Amy Foster, an UCF associate professor who specializes in space history.
“Since the Mercury Project and then President Kennedy’s commitment to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the space program has been a source of pride, fascination, and awe for many Americans,” Foster says. “As much as we have learned from robotics in space, there is nothing we have that can replace the curiosity and ingenuity of the human brain. That’s why sending people into space to explore what is out there is so important. Being able to launch from American soil again means we have the capability to push our exploration of the Solar System further. Our next step is a return to the moon and then on to Mars. And that’s inspiring.”
The launch has been years in the making with private companies conducting many tests and sustaining several public setbacks amid a new landscape of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The timing is unique for another reason. Lift-off is set amid a worldwide pandemic that has restricted the movement of most Americans for weeks.
“On a local level, the return to flight also promotes economic growth,” Foster says. “While tourism is limited at the moment given the concerns about travel and physical distancing, I expect the economic impact won’t be felt just yet,” Foster says. “But as NASA’s initiatives take flight along with more successes within private industry’s space endeavors, that economic impact should be felt in the coming years.”
It’s a perfect time for good news and for hope, say several UCF faculty and alumni with ties to the space industry. UCF’s history is linked to the Space Coast, where NASA launched the first man to land on the moon from more than 50 years ago. Since then UCF has been supporting the space initiative through research and the training of engineers and scientists who continue contribute to the exploration of the solar system and beyond.