New NASA Chief Vows US Will Always Have Astronauts in Orbit

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A Russian spacecraft carrying Serena Aunon-Chancellor of NASA, Sergey Prokopyev of Russian space agency Roscosmos and the ESA's Alexander Gerst, from Germany, lifted off as scheduled from the Russia-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan atop a Soyuz booster rocket at 1612 local time (4:12 a.m. PDT) Wednesday.

Rather than dismantling the space station, the memo said, the plan was to "expand worldwide and commercial partnerships over the next seven years in order to ensure continued human access to and presence in low Earth orbit". The three astronauts will be greeted by their fellow Expedition 56 crewmates: NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev.

NASA TV will feature live streaming coverage of the docking process, as well as the hatch opening and welcoming process, beginning at 8:15 a.m. Friday.

NPR's Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi and Emily Sullivan reported in March that private companies Boeing and Space X have been involved in helping with space expeditions for the past two decades. The three arriving astronauts will remain aboard until December.

The crew will spend more than five months conducting about 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. It may, but most Americans still believe NASA's role will be vital in the future.

The capsule has already made several trips to and from the space station, taking supplies and other cargo. Overall, 58% of USA adults believe it is essential to include the use of human astronauts in the future US space program, while 41% say astronauts are not essential.

NASA has a vast portfolio of different missions, but when rating nine of these missions, most Americans say that monitoring the climate system (63 percent) and monitoring asteroids and other near-Earth objects for potential collisions (62 percent) should be top priority.

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