After a delay of a few days due to bad weather, NASA and SpaceX are scheduled to launch astronauts from U.S. soil Saturday afternoon for the first time in nearly a decade.
The weather remains a major concern, but if all goes as planned with the launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, it will mark the first time a private company has launched people into orbit, with the astronauts being carried into space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule making its first manned spaceflight.
The mission is the culmination of a partnership struck in 2014 between Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Co. and NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX has been launching cargo capsules to the space station since 2012, but this will be the company’s first manned mission ahead of what is to be a long-term deal with NASA to bring astronauts to the International Space Station.
Astronaut Doug Hurley, 53, was the pilot of the space shuttle Atlantis during the program’s final mission in July 2011. Joining him in the Dragon will be Bob Behnken, 49, who has accumulated more than 708 hours in space.
Wednesday’s planned launch was scrubbed because of bad weather, and the weather remains iffy for a lunch this afternoon. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine cautioned on Saturday morning there is a 50% chance today’s launch could be cancelled due to unfavourable weather. If weather conditions again prevent the launch, the next attempt could take place Sunday.
Here’s what you need to know to watch.
Takeoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for 3:22 p.m. Philadelphia time from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. It would be just the fifth new manned space system, following the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and shuttle programs.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA is urging visitors to avoid traveling to the space center. But nearby beaches are open, and Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey encouraged visitors to come watch the launch.
NASA and SpaceX will stream the launch on their YouTube channels.
Cable networks including CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News are expected to show the launch live. Discovery and the Science Channel will simulcast coverage beginning at noon. The National Geographic channel will air joint coverage with ABC News beginning at 3 p.m.
SpaceX launch officials said around 1 p.m. the launch is currently “no-go” due to rain and scattered thunderstorms, but forecasters remain optimistic conditions might clear by the mission’s 3:22 p.m. launch window.
A final decision on whether to proceed with the launch could come around 2:37 p.m., about 45 minutes ahead of the mission’s 3:22 p.m. liftoff window.
If weather conditions again prevent the launch, the next attempt could take place Sunday.
President Donald Trump is returning to the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday for today’s rescheduled launch.
According to his public schedule, Trump is expected to arrive at Cape Canaveral at about 2:25 p.m., where he and First Lady Melania Trump will make their way to Operational Support Building 2 to watch the launch.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Cape Canaveral on Wednesday and took a tour of NASA’s facilities.
Two NASA astronauts are launching into space:
The Demo-2 mission is to validate the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule for human spaceflight. The 19-hour flight will send Hurley and Behnken to the International Space Station, where they will join the three-person crew. The long flight means they might need to test SpaceX’s new space toilet.
The two will spend from one to four months aboard the orbiting lab, where they will help with experiments and perform a space walk or two. The two astronauts will end their mission in a scene not seen since the Apollo 9 mission more than 50 years ago — an Atlantic splashdown.