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What does it mean to be a NASA astronaut in the age of Elon Musk and Richard Branson?

HOUSTON – The space for the American astronauts for the last seven years has begun at a Soviet launching site in Kazakhstan, deep in central Asia. There they are homage to the Russian cosmonauts and participate in the rituals of their values, even the tradition of urinating on the right rear tire of the bus that carries them to the rocket.

The landscape is unclean and dehydrated, similar to the moon or a distant celestial body, a reminder that the astronauts are far from Cape Canaveral.

Now the spacecraft of human beings flies to the place where the American space age was born.

As soon as this year, NASA plans to end its confidence in Russia and launch US pilots from US soil for the first time since the final shuttle mission in 201

1. But this time, astronauts will fly on rockets, unlike what NASA Ever Viewed – Built and Driven by Business

These first flights will be the $ 6.8 billion fruits of contracts NASA awarded to Boeing and SpaceX, marking a fundamental shift in America's human space program – outsourcing access to the Earth's path to private companies, some of whom hope to finally bring tourists to space.

Those chosen by NASA for their upcoming missions are a quartet of former military pilots and NASA veterans who have spent more than one year in space over eight flights together. They were all carefully chosen not only to fly to the international space station but to help revive NASA's often overlooked human space flow programs.

Unlike its predecessors from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs – heroes and household names whose "giant leap" was imprinted in the national lexicon and whose moon tracks last undisturbed decades later – today's astronauts are largely anonymous.

The stars of the new space age are instead a group of millionaire entrepreneurs led by SpaceX's Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson, who value technology over bravery, instinct algorithms, and whose rockets and spacecraft can one day make ordinary people astronauts. During the digital age, the mantle is measured on "the right stuff" to engineers and programmers who collide the line between pilot and passenger a row of code at a time.

They are the callers of the Kennedy-esque vision of space travel, which has attracted public attention, and even investors. Musk talks about colonizing Mars. Branson is proud to announce that Virgin Galactic has already notified 700 people of space to the tourists. And Jeffrey Bezo's Blue Origin says that the goal is nothing less than "millions of people living and working in space". (Bezos owns Washington Post.)

NASA does its best to promote its astronauts. They are available for interviews and talking at social events, companies and schoolchildren, especially from the space station, where they perform weightless somersaults and gobble floating M & M. They rhapsodize about seeing the earth from space and p dutifully answering the question as everyone always asks: How do you go to the bathroom in space?

  Earth is seen from the International Space Station. Many astronauts have talked about the overpower effect and how to see the planet from space can change their perspective.

Earth is seen from the International Space Station. Many astronauts have talked about the overpower effect and how to view the planet from space can change their perspective.
– Scott Kelly, NASA

On board the space station, the groundbreaking laboratory, they work more like researchers and researchers than explorers who circle the earth every 90 minutes on an endless circle just 250 miles or the distance between New York and Washington .

Back on earth, they are no longer disconnected by Broadway ticker-tape parades. Inside the Houstons Johnson Space Center they are still treated as heroes. But beyond these walls they are recognizable, like soldiers, police and firefighters, only when they do not have their signature blue moves. Otherwise, the state employees are performing a job that has a redemption pay for civilians of $ 69,904 a year, free to walk in the supermarkets in peace.

This is a good thing, says Scott Kelly, the most famous of the modern astronauts, who spent almost a year in space. It is difficult to make progress as a result of making space for space travel.

"It's an indication that we're doing it right," he says. "Right."

More than 500 people have been in space. Not everyone can be known. John Glenn and his other Mercury astronauts were pioneers in the true sense – the first Americans went to space, and then lost. Then came Gemini and Apollo. Men on the moon, and another ticker-band parade.

"Everybody knows who Orville and Wilbur Wright were," says Kelly. "But nobody knows the second or third person to fly an airplane."

Their names are Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, Doug Hurley and Sunita Williams. They are the ones chosen for NASA's next major mission. But instead of flying on rockets designed and operated by the space agency, their riders will be made by a couple of entrepreneurs – SpaceX and Boeing employees to provide a taxi-like service to the International Space Station.

  Astronaut Robert Behnken recalls limping to the C-SPAN hearing after the Challenger explosion in 1986.

Astronaut Robert Behnken recalls limping to C-SPAN hearings after the Challenger explosion in 1986.
– Washington Post Photo by Jonathan Newton

The space colors are new and beautiful, very different from the traffic jam orange "pumpkin costumes" worn by astronauts. Boeing is sea blue and comfortable; SpaceXs are white and black, right out of a sci-fi girl.

With the first aircraft scheduled later this year – a timeline that is likely to slip – NASA is expected to soon announce which astronauts are flying when. It would mark a definitive step for its "Commercial Crew" program, which has been delayed over and over again, as companies have been struggling to get their new spacecraft ready and because the ever-cautious NASA overcomes the scary memories of the shuttle Columbia explosion in 2003.

NASA has already offered a glimpse of four members of the first crews to fly, some of the best and most experienced in the astronaut corps. They have served as senior officers in the air force, navy corps and navy who grew up who want adventure. Combined, they have spent 74 years on NASA. Three have children. Everyone is married. Two, Hurley and Behnken, are married to other astronauts.

At the age of 53, Boe is the oldest, with a vague memory of being almost 5 years old "when my parents came in and said," Come and see this. "" There were men walking on the moon on black and white tv. At 47, Behnken, is the youngest, without memory of Apollo but a living when when Challenge challenged Challenge in 1986, and how days after he stopped at C-SPAN hearings, investigators were trying to figure out how the mission had gone so terribly wrong.

Williams, 52, is the veteran of the group and joined the Astronaut Corps 1998, two years before the other three and the only one flying on both space shuttle and Russian Soyuz spacecraft. She grew up and wanted to become a veterinarian but ended up in Naval Academy and then became a naval helicopter pilot and then an astronaut who was "hooting and hollering" and "having fun" with her crewmates when the shuttle was lifted.

"The guys on the platform were like," Would you shut up? We can not hear, "she said.

  Astronaut Doug Hurley flew two commuting missions, including the last before the commuter closure was closed.

Astronaut Doug Hurley flew two commuting missions, including the last one before the commute was closed.
– Washington Post Photo by Jonathan Newton

Hurley, 51, is a senior Marine Corps Colonel who flew two commuting missions. He knows triumph and majesty to see the earth from space. His first mission lasted 16 days and travels 6 547 853 miles and revolves around the earth 248 times.

His other mission was shorter, 12 days and bittersweet. It was the last shuttle mission, which meant not only sorrow but unemployment for hundreds.

Inside the Johnson Space Center are the four astronauts pictures on the walls. But their anonymity among the public does not bother them, they say. They do not fly for fame, but "for the better," Hurley says. "We do it for the country. We do it for the office. And we do it because we are passionate about it."

But today they make it on Russian rockets from a starting point in Kazakhstan, almost 7000 miles from Cape Canaveral, a distance that muffles their launches to the point of oblivion to much of the American public.

Few seem to remember that astronauts have been living on the space station continuously since 2000 and that NASA still operates three spacecraft that circle Mars and two robbers on its surface. Its new Horizons spacecraft flew off Pluto in 2015; Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is more than 13 billion miles from Earth, the only human-made object in interstellar space.

And still so many ask: Is NASA closed?

"We'll Always Get That Question" Hurley says. "What are you doing now when the (shuttle) program is over?"

The question shows, "How closely bound human spacecraft is for the public's perception of NASA," said Michael Lopez-Alegria, a former NASA astronaut. 19659039] —

When launching on Russian rockets, a world away, NASA's astronauts are foreign students, strangers soak up local culture and customs in a distant and curious country.

They first end in Star City, Russia, outside of Moscow, where American astronauts celebrate Soviet-hero Yuri Gagarin, the first person ever reaching space, leaves red carnations on his memory wall.

Then, two weeks before launch, they lead deep into the Central Asian desert, to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the starting point of the Soviet Union in Kazakhstan, where the food is heavy and salty, and as the astronauts flown in front of them, NASA is best in rituals holy and superstitious. [19659043] Before the launch, the astronaut watches the Russian film "White Sun in the Desert" from 1970. They are blessed by an orthodox clergyman in a gold dress pressing a cross in the nose and blessing them with a splash of water on the face that comes to someone with unexpected power. The astronauts drink a glass of champagne and then, before transporting to the launch site, urinate on the rear right-hand deck of the bus, because the legend has made Gagarin it before his first flight.

Perhaps the most disorienting is that in the Baikonur astronauts are not clued in the countdown. They get a warning in five minutes. Then for a minute. But then the seconds pass silently until the engines begin to move below them.

"There is much superstition," Williams said. "It's a lot of tradition … And when you think about it, it's pretty cool."

  Astronaut Sunita Williams has flown in the shuttle and Soyuz. She is one of four selected for NASA's next manned mission.

Astronaut Sunita Williams has flown in the shuttle and Soyuz. She is one of four selected for NASA's next manned mission.
– Washington Post Photo by Jonathan Newton

Even killing the tire, which can be tricky for female astronauts: "I got a bit of urine on the tire – put it on," she said. "I stood by tradition."

] The Florida Space Coast also has its traditions, like the prelunch parties on the beach that may not be as straight as they once were, but still enduring.

"When You" Again From Kennedy Space Center, Do You Know Support From The Country Behind You? because there are a lot of people, says Williams. In Baikonur, the number of visitors is limited. But in Florida, "all your friends and family come in their cars and their campers and settle down."

Now she hopes they will gathered again as they used. On the sunny coast of Florida, where the waves do not last far from the launch, the hotels and bars along the lane with four lanes for many years have served as a kind of embroidery for the tourists who s ig on the beach, just down the road from Disney World.

It's here on beaches and crossroads that tens of thousands would gather, all that sings on the Florida coastline: "3 … 2 … 1 …"

Soon they can collect Also elsewhere: In the desert of New Mexico and West Texas; in Mohave, California; and along the Gulf of Mexico in the secluded retreat where the millionaires build their private space gates.

The most amazing of these is the New Mexico Spaceport America, which the Virgin's Virgin Galactic has promised for many years to become a destination for the tourists as much as $ 250,000 a ticket would go on an exciting ride to the edge of space.

So far more than 700 have signed up, the company says more than the 560 or so in space. In 2014, the company suffered a major backslash when the spacecraft got in midair during a test flight and killed the pilot in a battle that set it back for years.

Now it's flying again and on May 29, the new spacecraft flew supersonically for the second time from Mohave test site, extending closer to the edge of space, making it 22 miles high.

Bezo's Blue Origin is just over 200 miles away, in eastern Texas, its own launch site, where it also plans to fly tourists right across the edge of space. Over the state of Brownsville, SpaceX builds its own private launch site.

Axiom, a Houston-based business space-based company, recently announced 10 days of travel to the $ 55 million International Space Station, a stop, starting in 2020.

Businesses have different approaches and aspirations, but everybody wants open up space for the masses to create a new generation of astronauts that differ far from those NASA has produced since the Age of Space. It would be an era where travel might not only be about collective achievement but the ability of individuals to go.

"I totally support all kinds of people entering space. I mean that's the whole meaning of what we're trying to do," said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin. "We want poets, we want artists , we want journalists, we want all people to go out there because we strongly believe this is called a "review effect", where people get a better perspective on where they live. "

As she prepares for her third trip to space, NASA Williams says that she is one for all.

" I wish everyone on this planet would have the opportunity to take a round around the world, just once at least, she says. "And just see how it looks."

Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin hope to get their first test flights with people to space later this year.

This breakthrough can come before Williams and her colleagues start in space. This would mean that the people who restore human space escape from the United States will not be NASA astronauts at all, but the private executives and their customers who have become the new celebrities in America's foreplay in the cosmos.

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