To tell the story of a space launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, we need to start with the hotels. Each with its life-size astronaut in the lobby, each with the names of the missions hanging on the walls like so many trophies, in this case above the breakfast counter. In this strip of land about an hour from Orlando the streets have names borrowed from a space vocabulary (our address is on Astronaut Boulevard) and the architecture recalls the rockets that soar at the Kennedy Space Center. But on the illuminated signs that remind tourists of the launches who venture here together with groups of cruise ships (another local attraction) of the next appointment, instead of NASA it says Axiom Space and SpaceX.
Axiom Space and SpaceX
The first is the Texan company that manages the Axi-3 mission, the company’s third commercial trip to the international space station, with 4 European astronauts on board, including the Italian Walter Villadei. That he has dreamed of space for many years, first studying as a cosmonaut in Star City and then also becoming an astronaut in Houston. And now, as a pilot, boarding a Crew Dragon shuttle by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company which guarantees NASA the transport of crews to and from the Station, as well as autonomous access to space thanks to its revolutionary launcher, equipped with a first stage which detaches a few minutes after launch and returns to Earth to be reused. That of the Falcon 9 ready to depart from the historic 39A ramp is on its fifth launch, the Air Force tells us, underlining the glue role played in this mission for the country system, with institutions and private companies that have teamed up to bring a whole series of experiments orbits. The future then passes from here, from a mixture of public and private, from these new actors who are entering the space adventure (driving around the Kennedy Space Center we are forced to take a detour due to work in progress in front of the hangar of Blue Origin, another protagonist of this revolution).
Four professional astronauts
And it passes through the dreams and hopes of four professional astronauts who became a team in just a few months. In addition to Walter Villadei and the mission commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, former NASA astronaut now in Axiom with 5 orbit missions under his belt, a tough guy who in his last press conference from quarantine said that he hasn’t gotten tired of space yet and as long as they continue to call him he will always raise his hand, the two mission specialists Marcus Wandt and Alper Gezeravci are also leaving for the Space Station. The first is a reserve astronaut from the new class of 2022, who, thanks to the commitment of his country, Sweden, will go into space before his 5 career colleagues, who will only graduate in April. The second is the first Turkish astronaut to fly into orbit, someone who wants to demonstrate to all the children of his country that they can look at the sky in a new way. Even Walter Villadei, from quarantine, sent a message to young people: “Believe in your country and never be afraid of your dreams”.