SpaceX was forced to postpone its launch of two NASA astronauts until Saturday, May 30. The postponement comes after bad weather threatened the mission.
Originally scheduled for Wednesday, the launch would’ve been the first time a private company ever launched astronauts into space aboard commercially developed hardware. The planned mission was to ferry the two astronauts to the International Space Station in the first launch of humans from US soil since the last space shuttle mission in 2011. If successful, it will be a major step forward for both NASA and SpaceX.
The world will have to wait a few more days to see NASA astronauts launch into space. Just 17 minutes before launch, #SpaceX scrubbed the mission due to bad weather around the launchsite and along the capsule’s flight path. They'll try again Saturday. https://t.co/rD7SQ7OstQ
— WIRED (@WIRED) May 27, 2020
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The countdown had its fair share of drama. Prior to the launch, weather forecasts predicted a 50-50 chance of acceptable launch conditions. However, luck wasn’t on SpaceX’s side because the weather took a turn shortly before takeoff. The launch facility, Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, FL, even received a tornado warning less than 20 minutes before the scheduled liftoff time.
President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk were all on hand for the event. Trump toured the space center before the launch. When asked if he had a message for the astronauts, he replied, “God be with you. It’s dangerous business, but they’re the best there is.”
SpaceX has been developing technology for manned missions for years, but its met several setbacks along the way. The Crew Dragon capsule, which will carry the astronauts to the ISS, has been hampered by a series of setbacks during the course of its development. These include problems with its oxygen generators, thrusters, and parachutes. The company has also had issues with the Falcon 9 rocket, including two catastrophic explosions. All and all, technical problems caused about 4 years of delays before SpaceX managed to reach this point.
However, none of that will matter if SpaceX can complete its mission on Saturday. The plan is to take two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the space station for a stay of one to four months. After that, the Crew Dragon capsule will carry the men back to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean. If everything goes off without a hitch, NASA is expected to grant SpaceX systems full approval for ferrying crews in and out of orbit.
NASA is eager to launch astronauts back into space. It hasn’t put humans into orbit since it retired its aging space shuttle fleet in 2011. Since then, it’s been paying the Russians to bring US astronauts into orbit aboard Russian rockets and spacecraft. However, NASA hopes to put an end to that arrangement through its partnership with SpaceX. Going forward, NASA and the US government believe that public-private collaborations like this will be the key to developing a deep space exploration program. The private sector could ultimately be responsible for delivering astronauts to the moon as soon as 2024 and, eventually, Mars.
SpaceX personnel understand the full weight of the task at hand. Teams have been working diligently to ensure every possible problem is addressed. During a media teleconference on Friday, several SpaceX personnel spoke with the media about the company’s push to tackle the problems it faced on the road to the launch. “Human space flight is really, really tough,” said SpaceX Director of Crew Mission Management Benji Reed. “We are all holding each other accountable,” he added.