SpaceX and NASA planned to launch astronauts Wednesday from the U.S. for the first time since 2011 — but Florida weather didn’t cooperate. The launch was scheduled for set for 4:33 p.m. Eastern time, but has been pushed back to Saturday at 3:22 p.m. Eastern time.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are to be the first people ever to launch in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. During the flight, the astronauts will make sure all the systems work before NASA certifies the spacecraft to regularly transport its astronauts to the space station.
SpaceX launch postponed due to poor weather
SpaceX’s historic launch of NASA astronauts was scrubbed about 15 minutes before lift-off due to poor weather conditions in Florida.
The launch is rescheduled for Saturday at 3:22 p.m. Eastern time.
Scrubs are just part of the aerospace business
A scrub is not uncommon for rocket launches.
They can happen due to issues with the rocket, or, in the case of Wednesday’s mission, inclement weather.
SpaceX and NASA had been tracking potentially unfavorable weather conditions prior to lift-off. About two hours before the launch, the weather near Kennedy Space Center in Florida was only 40% favorable.
Learning to fix the space toilet is harder during a pandemic
Before the coronavirus reached the United States, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley already were largely trained for their mission but still needed lessons on functioning as a human being on the space station -- for example, using and fixing the station’s toilet.
The station’s waste management system is high-tech and involves buttons, switches and a number of parts. There are pumps and compressors. There’s a suction function that pulls urine into a funnel and runs it through an air/water separator. Suction is also needed to perform the vital task of pulling solid waste into the toilet. (“In zero gravity, everything floats,” retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson said.)
The pandemic complicated that training.
What makes this mission historic
This mission is poised to be the first time U.S. astronauts launch to orbit from U.S. soil in American-made vehicles since the space shuttle was retired in 2011. It will also be the first time a private spacecraft will ferry astronauts to orbit.
If the mission is successful, NASA will no longer have to rely solely on Russia to transport U.S. astronauts to space, which has cost the U.S. billions of dollars. It would also bolster NASA’s bet that relying on commercial companies for “routine” services, such as transporting cargo and crew to the space station, will free up the agency to focus on more ambitious endeavors, such as missions to the moon or Mars.
For SpaceX, a successful launch would achieve the company’s longstanding goal of flying humans to space.
When SpaceX and Boeing Co. were awarded multibillion-dollar contracts in 2014 to develop separate spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station, the Elon Musk-led SpaceX was seen as a scrappy upstart. Today, the company has an extensive list of customers that include commercial satellite operators, the U.S. military and, of course, NASA.
Whether the launch can happen today depends on weather conditions in Florida.
The weather forecast at Kennedy Space Center in Florida was about 40% favorable about two hours before launch, SpaceX engineer John Insprucker said on the launch webcast.
The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for Brevard County, where Kennedy Space Center is located.
SpaceX and NASA need to worry about the weather in more places than just the the launch site. The teams also need to make sure conditions are acceptable along the flight path in the Atlantic Ocean in case the capsule has to splash down for an emergency escape.
Live video of the NASA SpaceX launch