Launch scrubbed; SpaceX to try again Saturday

Weather forces postponement NASA/SpaceX crewed launch

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit was called off Wednesday because of the rainfall in the flight path.

Less than 17 minutes before the 4:33 p.m. scheduled launch, SpaceX scrubbed the flight. The next launch attempt is set for 3:22 p.m. Saturday. News4Jax Chief Meteorologist John Gaughan gives a 40% chance of good weather in the launch zone on Saturday afternoon. The next launch window be Sunday afternoon, when Gaughan said the chances should be better.

Despite the threatening weather, two NASA astronauts climbed aboard a SpaceX rocket ship Wednesday afternoon for liftoff on a history-making flight that was seen as a giant leap forward for the booming business of commercial space travel.

Less than an hour before the planned launch, crews began fueling the rocket’s tanks. At T-minus 16:43, SpaceX called it off for the day.

Space veterans Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were scheduled to ride into orbit aboard the brand-new Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off for the International Space Station from the same launch pad used by the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago.

Behnken tweeted Wednesday evening:

About 90 minutes after the astronauts were due to blast off, they emerged from the capsule and rode down the elevator and into a waiting Tesla -- a nod to SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s other business: electric vehicles.

“It was a great day for NASA, it was a great day for SpaceX,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine posted in a Tweet at the end of the day. “I think our teams worked together in a really impressive way, making good decisions all along.”

Hurley and Behnken will remain in quarantine at the space center for safety reasons, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic, until Saturday when they would suit up again.

“COVID did drive some changes in how we conduct our operations in preparing for this mission,” Behnken said.

Hurley said: “We’ve been tested at least twice so far, and rumor has it, we might be tested again before we go.”

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Despite a 50/50 forecast

Hours earlier, the two astronauts were smiling, waving and giving the traditional thumbs-up as Vice President Mike Pence looked on as the men said farewell to their families -- exchanging blown kisses and pantomiming hugs for their young sons from a coronavirus-safe distance -- before setting out for the pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV.

Thunder could be heard rumbling as the convoy of vehicles made its way toward the rocket. And a tornado warning was issued moments after the men climbed into their capsule.

The flight, when it happens, will mark the first time a private company sent humans into orbit and end NASA’s reliance on the Russians to get its astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

As the afternoon progressed, President Donald Trump also arrived at Kennedy Space Center and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted: “We are go for launch!”

Trump was given a tour of some of NASA’s facilities, but within 30 minutes of the decision to delay, Air Force One took off. Before he reached Washington, he tweeted he would be back on Saturday.

The Falcon 9 has a thrust greater than five 747s at full power. The astronaut taxi is the Crew Dragon. On board will be Behnken and Hurley. Behnken last flew on the shuttle in 2010. Hurley flew on the final shuttle mission aboard Atlantis in 2011.

Thee astronauts won’t be wearing the traditional orange shuttle suits. They’ll be outfitted in SpaceX’s white-and-gray futuristic spacesuits. This mission is called Demo-2.

“In the midst of more development than we’ve ever had before in NASA’s history, we are going launch American astronauts in American rockets from American soil,” Bridenstine said.

The Dragon spacecraft is a capsule. It is not a shuttle. It’s more like the Russian Soyuz spacecraft and NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules from the 60s and 70s.

The rocket will fly from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. It is the same launch pad used to launch Apollo 11 to the moon and employed on the last shuttle mission to end an era.

“My heart sitting right here, and I think it’s going to stay there until we get Bob and Doug safely back from the ISS. But between now and then, there’s still work to do. I’ve got thousands of SpaceX employees who are focused on this mission,” said Gwynne Shotwell, president of Space X.

About two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9′s first-stage booster will separate from the upper stage and begin preparations for a landing back on Earth. SpaceX plans to land the rocket on a drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You,” which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. In order to “stick the landing,” the rocket must execute a flip maneuver before firing its engines for a re-entry.

Just a few seconds after the first stage separation, the rocket's second stage will fire its engines for about six minutes. The Crew Dragon spacecraft will separate from the rocket's second stage. At this point, Crew Dragon will be on its own in space for the first time.

Once it has separated from the rocket’s upper stage, the spacecraft will perform a series of maneuvers to gradually approach and dock with the International Space Station. That’s expected to happen about 19 hours after liftoff.

“The future of human space flight is going to be very different than it is today,” Bridenstine said. “We think about what we’re doing on the ISS to commercialize lower Earth’s orbit. We envision a future where we have a dozen space stations in lower Earth orbit. All operated by commercial industry for their own purposes and that NASA could be a customer to those space stations.”

The Demo-2 astronauts will spend anywhere from 30 to 119 days aboard the ISS. NASA and Space-X haven’t decided exactly how long this mission is going to last.

4 things you should know

  1. The Space Shuttle Atlantis was the last manned launch from the U.S. in 2011. It has been on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors’ Complex since 2012.
  2. The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral, the same launch pad used to send Apollo astronauts to the moon.
  3. After successfully docking with the space station, Col. Bob Behnken and Col. Doug Hurley will become members of the Expedition 63 crew, along with astronaut Capt. Chris Cassidy, who is already on the ISS, and they will remain on board the ISS for two to three months.
  4. After leaving the space station, the Crew Dragon will splashdown just off Florida’s coast and the crew will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel before returning to Cape Canaveral.

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