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SpaceX launch of Nasa astronauts postponed due to bad weather

The launch will be attempted again on Saturday.

The capsule will be piloted by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
The capsule will be piloted by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

Updated May 27th 2020, 9:40 PM

TONIGHT’S PLANNED HISTORIC launch of a SpaceX rocket carrying two Nasa astronauts has been called off because of bad weather. 

The launch was scrubbed just under 17 minutes ahead of the scheduled time of 4:33 pm (9:33 pm Irish time), with a new launch time now planned for Saturday. 

“Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today,” SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor told NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. 

In a tweet, Nasa explained that the launch time must be precise so the rocket can reach the International Space Station “on time and accurately”.   

The launch represents the first manned mission to orbit by a private company and will be the first crewed mission to blast off from US soil in almost a decade.

The launch is now planned for Saturday at 3.22 pm (8.22 pm Irish time) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

A brewing thunderstorm had threatened over the course of today and the US National Hurricane Center had announced that a tropical storm was forming off South Carolina.

The poor weather had increased the risk that the astronauts may be forced to carry out an emergency landing in the Atlantic shortly after takeoff.

If such an emergency landing were to happen later rather than earlier, the plan could see the crew could potentially land in the Atlantic close to Ireland

“If required, thrusters on the Crew Dragon or Starliner spacecraft would fire after an abort to ensure the capsule lands within about 300 miles of eastern Canada or Ireland,” Spaceflight Now reports

The postponement of the launch had been a risk since yesterday. 

“Yeah, Atlantic weather review tomorrow morning will determine if we can launch,” tweeted Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, who has been waiting for this moment ever since founding his company in 2002.

Had the flight gone ahead as planned, Astronomy Ireland says had said that the space craft should pass over Irish skies some 20 minutes later.

Mission

Piloted by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will head for the International Space Station.

weather-postpones-spacex-demo-2-historic-manned-launch Bad weather had threatened throughout the day. Source: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinal

The mission has proceeded despite shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with the crew in quarantine for the past two weeks.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded in 2002, tearing up the rules to produce a lower-cost alternative to human spaceflight that has gradually won over skeptics.

By 2012, it had become the first private company to dock a cargo capsule at the ISS, resupplying the station regularly ever since.

Two years later, NASA ordered the next step: to transport its astronauts there, starting in 2017, by adapting the Dragon capsule.

“SpaceX would not be here without NASA,” said Musk last year, after a successful dress rehearsal without humans for the trip to the ISS.

The space agency paid more than $3 billion for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips.

The project has experienced delays, explosions, and parachute problems — but even so, SpaceX has beaten aerospace giant Boeing to the punch.

NASA is also paying Boeing to build its own capsule, the Starliner, which is still not ready.

The move by NASA to invest in privately-developed spacecraft — a more economic proposition than spending tens of billions of dollars developing such systems itself, as it had done for decades — was begun under the presidency of George W. Bush for cargo, and then under Barack Obama for human flight.

“Some have said it is unfeasible or unwise to work with the private sector in this way. I disagree,” Obama said in 2010 at the Kennedy Space Center.

At the time, there was immense hostility in Congress and NASA to the start-up’s claims of what it could achieve.

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Trump to attend

A decade on it is another president, Donald Trump, who was to attend today’s launch in Florida.

The Republican is trying to reaffirm American domination of space, militarily but also by ordering a return to the Moon in 2024.

If NASA can entrust “low Earth orbit” space travel to the private sector, it would free up dollars for its more distant missions.

 

“We envision a future where low Earth orbit is entirely commercialised where NASA is one customer of many customers,” said Jim Bridenstine, the agency’s administrator.

“If we keep using American taxpayer dollars … we’ll never get to the Moon and on to Mars.”

Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but updated for the 21st century.

Touch screens have replaced switches. The interior is dominated by white, more subtle lighting.

It looks entirely different than the huge winged space shuttles that carried astronauts into space from US soil from 1981 to 2011.

“We’re expecting a smooth ride but we’re expecting a loud ride,” said Behnken, who, like Hurley, also flew in the shuttles twice.

Unlike the shuttles, one of which — the Challenger — exploded in 1986 after take-off, Dragon can eject in an emergency if the Falcon 9 rocket has a problem boosting it into space.

Crew Dragon will catch up with the space station on tomorrow at an altitude of 400 kilometers, and will probably remain docked there until August.

If it fulfils its mission and is certified safe, it will mean the Americans will no longer depend on Russia for access to space: since 2011, the Russian Soyuz rockets were the only space taxis available.

- With reporting by © – AFP 2020 

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Rónán Duffy

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