President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden both celebrated SpaceX's astronaut launch for NASA on Sunday night (Nov. 15), though the tone of their remarks was quite different.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Crew Dragon capsule "Resilience" Sunday evening from Florida, kicking off the company's Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station. If all goes according to plan, Resilience and its four passengers — NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker and Japan's Soichi Noguchi — will arrive at the orbiting lab around 11 p.m. EST on Monday night (Nov. 16; 0400 GMT on Nov. 17).
The six-month-long Crew-1 is SpaceX's first contracted astronaut mission to the station for NASA, under a $2.6 billion deal the company signed in 2014 that covers at least six such flights. Crew-1 isn't SpaceX's first crewed launch of any kind, however; that distinction goes to the Demo-2 test flight, which sent two NASA astronauts to the orbiting lab for a two-month stay this past summer.
A great launch! @NASA was a closed up disaster when we took over. Now it is again the “hottest”, most advanced, space center in the world, by far! https://t.co/CDCGdO74YbNovember 16, 2020
"A great launch! @NASA was a closed up disaster when we took over. Now it is again the 'hottest', most advanced, space center in the world, by far!" Trump tweeted on Sunday night (opens in new tab).
The president tweeted something similar on Aug. 5, three days after Demo-2 came back down to Earth, claiming that NASA was "closed and dead" (opens in new tab) before he came to power in 2017. This is not true, of course; NASA has been going strong since its inception in the late 1950s.
Presumably such tweets refer to the nine-year stretch after the space shuttles retired in 2011 when the United States did not have the ability to launch astronauts to orbit and was therefore totally reliant on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to do this job. Demo-2 ended that fallow period, and Crew-1 will really put it in the rearview mirror.
But the seeds of SpaceX's recent crewed achievements were sown during President Barack Obama's first term. In 2010, NASA established its Commercial Crew Program, which has encouraged the development of private American astronaut taxis to fill the shuttle's shoes.
In 2014, the program inked crew-carrying deals with both SpaceX and Boeing, which is working on a capsule of its own called CST-100 Starliner. (Starliner isn't ready to fly astronauts yet; it must first ace an uncrewed flight to the station, a mission it failed to accomplish on its first try in December 2019.)
Congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on today's launch. It’s a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination. I join all Americans and the people of Japan in wishing the astronauts Godspeed on their journey.November 16, 2020
Biden's post-launch tweet (opens in new tab) on Sunday night was far more traditional, with no aspersions cast on NASA's past.
"Congratulations to NASA and SpaceX on today's launch. It’s a testament to the power of science and what we can accomplish by harnessing our innovation, ingenuity, and determination. I join all Americans and the people of Japan in wishing the astronauts Godspeed on their journey," the president-elect wrote.
Biden recently named his eight-person transition team for NASA, which will get the president-elect fully up to speed on the agency ahead of his January 2021 inauguration. The team includes former NASA chief scientists Ellen Stofan and Waleed Abdalati and former NASA astronaut Pam Melroy.
Trump's Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the current National Space Council, was on hand to watch SpaceX's Crew-1 launch.
Congratulations to Crew-1 Mission Astronauts @Astro_illini, @AstroVicGlover, Shannon Walker, & Japanese astronaut, @Astro_Soichi! These astronauts took flight with our Hopes and our Prayers! Godspeed Resilience! 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/swcrvcd1pdNovember 16, 2020
Pence showered the Crew-1 astronauts with congratulations in a Twitter message (opens in new tab) and shared an image of him watching the launch at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
"These astronauts took flight with our Hopes and our Prayers!" Pence said. "Godspeed Resilience!"
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.