KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fl. — With gray clouds above that did not move away fast enough, a rocket launch that was to be the first to take American astronauts to orbit from American soil in nearly a decade stayed on the ground, disappointing spectators including President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Launch officials announced at4:17 p.m. Wednesday that rough weather would prevent a SpaceX rocket and capsule from taking off from a Florida launch pad, carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on the first crewed spaceflight to take off from US soil in nearly a decade.There are additional launch windows this Saturday and Sunday, a NASA spokesperson said. The next attempt will be on Saturday at 3:22 p.m.
There was a 50% chance the flight would be “scrubbed,” or postponed, due to weather as of Wednesday morning. Rain along the flight path and developing afternoon thunderstorms in the vicinity were the main concerns for the launch, as Florida has faced heavy rain from a tropical disturbance for the last several days.
Despite discouragement from top NASA officials, crowds had gathered along Florida’s Space Coast, and the rocket was on the launchpad, ready to head toward orbit — and a transformed era of human spaceflight.
The 45th Space Wing, an arm of the military that oversees all East Coast rocket launches, monitors the weather and shares its information with NASA and SpaceX. The launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is planned to move forward over the weekend despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which has shuttered both private and government operations across the US. NASA says it must carry on with the mission in order to keep the International Space Station, a giant orbiting laboratory, fully staffed with US astronauts.The space agency’s top official, Jim Bridenstine, also said he hopes this launch will inspire awe and uplift the general public during the ongoing health crisis.
The launch of two NASA astronauts on a rocket built by SpaceX, the rocket company started by billionaire Elon Musk, would be the first launching of people by a private company and not a national space agency like NASA. For this launch, SpaceX was in charge, although in consultation with NASA officials.
“This is not something that I ever thought would actually happen,” Mr. Musk said during an appearance on NASA Television. “So when starting SpaceX in 2002, I really did not think this day would occur. I expected a 90 percent chance we would fail to even get to a low-Earth orbit with a small rocket.”
SpaceX developed Crew Dragon under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which, for the first time in the space agency’s history, handed over much of the design, development and testing of new human-rated spacecraft to the private sector. NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing fixed-price contracts to get the job done, but that decision wasn’t without controversy, particularly in the Commercial Crew Program’s early days. But if the SpaceX flight is a success, it could be seen as a huge win for people at NASA who hope to rely more extensively on similar contracts to help accomplish the space agency’s goals.Bridenstine, for example, hopes to rely heavily on private-sector partnerships to accomplish the space agency’s ambitious goal of landing US astronauts on the moon in 2024.”Ultimately, what we’re trying to achieve is having numerous providers that are competing against each other on costs, innovation and safety. And then NASA can be a customer, one customer of many customers, and we already know that this will save a ton of money over the long term,” Bridenstine told CNN Business’ Rachel Crane.