Moments before launching NASA scrubbed today's launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Crew Dragon spacecraft on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 27, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA will try again on Saturday for the inaugural flight that will be the first manned mission since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 to be launched into space from the United States.
AFP/oe Raedle/Getty Images
SpaceX, NASA delay milestone mission due to bad weather
Ivan Couronne (Agence France-Presse) - May 28, 2020 - 7:45am

UNITED STATES — SpaceX's landmark launch to the International Space Station — the first crewed mission to blast off from US soil in almost a decade — was scrubbed Wednesday due to bad weather.

With NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley strapped into the Crew Dragon capsule, the launch pad platform retracted and rocket fueling underway, SpaceX made the call to abort.

"Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today," launch director Mike Taylor said, with less than 20 minutes to go until takeoff. 

Officials cited the threat of lightning, among other factors.

It means a wait of at least a few more days for the first crewed launch on an American rocket since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. They will try again on Saturday.

If successful, the launch will be the first time the feat has been performed by a privately-owned company.

A live video feed showed Behnken and Hurley — in their futuristic white uniforms adorned with the US flag and the logos of NASA and SpaceX — waiting as propellant was unloaded from the reusable Falcon 9 rocket. 

The emergency ejection system remained armed until the fuel tanks were emptied, in case of an accidental explosion.

The launch had been scheduled for 4:33 pm (2033 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A. Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates lifted off from the same spot on their historic journey to the Moon.

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

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump had arrived in Florida to watch, but headed back to the White House once the launch was called off.

SpaceX win over Boeing

Founded in 2002, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has torn 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 by adapting the Dragon capsule. 

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

The US 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. 

Boeing's NASA entry, the Starliner, is still not ready. 

The move by NASA to invest in privately developed spacecraft — a more budget-friendly 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.

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

Ending dependence on Russia

A decade on, it was Trump who was present for the launch.  

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 commercialized, where NASA is one customer of many customers," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said. 

Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but updated for the 21st century. Touch screens have replaced switches. The interior has more subtle lighting. 

It looks entirely different from 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, flew in the shuttles twice.

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

When the mission eventually goes ahead, Crew Dragon will catch up with the space station, and will probably remain docked there until August. 

If it fulfills 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. 

NASA SPACEX
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LATEST UPDATE: June 1, 2020 - 8:13am

Monitor major developments on space explorations and the status of missions.

June 1, 2020 - 8:13am

NASA astronauts enter the International Space Station on Sunday after a landmark 19-hour journey on the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade, a triumph for SpaceX and private enterprise.

The hatch opened at 1:02 pm Eastern Time (1702 GMT) as Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley carried out final close out procedures, crossing the threshold about twenty minutes later.

Wearing black polo shirts and khaki pants, Behnken entered first, followed by Hurley. 

They were greeted by fellow US astronaut Chris Cassidy, as well as cosmonauts Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, all in the blue jumpsuits of the space station, which was launched in 1998 and first inhabited in 2000. — AFP

May 28, 2020 - 7:49am

SpaceX's landmark launch to the International Space Station was postponed Wednesday due to poor weather with around 20 minutes to go until takeoff.

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

The next launch window is on Saturday. — AFP

 

December 28, 2019 - 9:56am

NASA's Mars 2020 rover will head off for the Red Planet next year. But like Voyager, Galileo and Cassini before it, the mission's epic journey began in a "clean room" in California.

One of two ultra-sterile labs used for spacecraft assembly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the eggshell-white room was briefly and exceptionally opened to journalists Friday.

"We need to keep the hardware as pristine and as safe as possible until we get to Mars," says David Gruel, operations manager for Mars 2020. --- AFP

August 14, 2019 - 9:40pm

To prepare for the next mission to Mars in 2020, NASA has taken to the lava fields of Iceland to get its new robotic space explorer ready for the job.

With its black basalt sand, wind-swept dunes and craggy peaks, the Lambahraun lava field at the foot of Iceland's second biggest glacier, Langjokull, was chosen as a stand-in for the Red Planet's surface.

July 21, 2019 - 12:35pm

Houston's Space Center counts down to the exact moment 50 years ago that Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the Moon, marking one of humanity's greatest achievements.

Thousands celebrate the "Moonversary" with fireworks and music as a giant screen showed footage of the era-defining moment.

After spending a few moments at the foot of the ladder of lunar module Eagle, where he and Buzz Aldrin had landed six hours earlier, Armstrong stepped onto the surface of our natural satellite at 10:56 pm on July 20, 1969.

"That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

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