President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump flew to Kennedy Space Center for the launch

By Benjamin VanHoose and Nick Maslow
May 27, 2020 04:22 PM
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Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken
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It's a no go on the NASA-SpaceX launch.

Officials called off the historic flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, citing weather conditions, but the launch has been rescheduled for Saturday at 3:22 p.m. ET.

Officials survey weather conditions six hours, four hours and 45 minutes prior to lift off. On Wednesday, they held out hope until about the 17-minute mark.

In the hours leading up to the potential launch, forecasters said there was a 50 percent chance of acceptable weather, Central Florida NBC affiliate WESH reported. SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule requires tame waves and wind conditions along the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada and in the Atlantic Ocean between North America and Ireland in the event of an emergency splashdown.

The spacecraft was expected to launch at 4:33 p.m. ET to transport NASA astronauts Robert Behnken, 49, and Douglas Hurley, 53, to the International Space Station in a history-making mission.

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The endeavor has been celebrated as the first flight of American astronauts on American-made rockets from U.S. soil after the last Space Shuttle expedition in July 2011. (Since then, American astronauts have traveled to the Space Station on Russian spaceships that took off in Kazakhstan.)

A test flight for the Crew Dragon, the mission would have been the vehicle's second spaceflight but its first with astronauts on board.

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When the launch eventually happens, it will be the first time that a private company, Elon Musk's SpaceX, has sent a manned aircraft into space — marking an important step for the future of the commercial space travel industry.

“We're launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We haven't done this really since 2011, so this is a unique moment in time,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine prior to the scheduled launch.

He added that "everybody can look up and say, 'Look, the future is so much brighter than the present.' And I really hope that this is an inspiration to the world.”

Elon Musk, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence
NASA/Bill Ingalls

The space vehicle was set to take off from Launch Pad 39A atop a specially instrumented Falcon 9 rocket. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence flew to the Kennedy Space Center to witness the momentous occasion, for which Grammy winner Kelly Clarkson was slated to perform the National Anthem.

The crew was expected to dock at the space station at approximately 11:39 a.m. on Thursday, according to a press release.

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According to CNN, NASA had slotted this Saturday and Sunday as potential backup days if weather had made liftoff unsafe.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arriving at Kennedy Space Center
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The eventual launch is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, and “will provide data on the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon spacecraft and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking and landing operations,” NASA said. It must complete the trip before it can be certified by the program.

“The highest priority is to test the vehicle and get it home safely, and then be prepared to launch Crew-1,” Bridenstine said at a media conference on Tuesday.

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Added Behnken: “It has a lot of features and capabilities that hopefully we never have to utilize in a real mission, but Doug and I will make sure that they are all ready just in case we do.”

Behnken, who was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights, will serve as joint operations commander for the mission, while Hurley, who has also been a NASA astronaut since 2000 and has completed two spaceflights, will be spacecraft commander.

It remains to be seen when the crew would return to Earth and touch down off the Atlantic Coast near Florida. The craft used for the test flight can stay in orbit for about 110 days, but its return is dependent upon when the next commercial crew launch will be ready.

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When it does come back, it will leave the space station with Behnken and Hurley on board and splash down off the Atlantic Coast near Florida, where it will be picked up at sea by SpaceX’s Go Navigator recovery vessel and brought back to Cape Canaveral.

If all goes as planned with the eventual launch, NASA is expected to certify the Crew Dragon for “operational space station crew rotation missions, clearing the way for launch of a three-man, one-woman crew this fall,” CBS News reported.

Aerospace manufacturer Boeing is also part of the program, but Boeing's first manned flight isn't expected to take off until 2021.

"The goal of the Commercial Crew Program is to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective transportation to and from the International Space Station," NASA said. "This could allow for additional research time and increase the opportunity for discovery aboard humanity’s testbed for exploration, including preparation for human exploration of the Moon and Mars."