NASA and high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX announced on Friday a 24-hour weather delay for the planned launch of four astronauts into orbit for NASA’s first full-fledged human mission by private spacecraft.
Takeoff time shortened from Saturday to Sunday night due to predictions of gusty onshore winds over Florida – remnants of Tropical Storm Eta – that would have made a return landing difficult for the Falcon 9 rocket’s reusable booster stage, NASA officials said.
SpaceX’s redesigned Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed “Resilience” by the crew, has been postponed for launch on Falcon 9 at 7:27 pm. Eastern Time on Sunday (0027 GMT on Monday) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
The crew for the flight to the International Space Station consists of three American astronauts – Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and the mission commander Mike Hopkins, a colonel in the US Air Force who is to be sworn into the young US space force on board the orbiting laboratory.
The fourth crew member is Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who is making his third trip into orbit after flying the US spacecraft in 2005 and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2009.
The trip to the space station, which has been extended from around eight hours to just over a day due to the new launch time, is considered SpaceX’s first “operational” mission for the Crew Dragon.
A so-called test flight of the vehicle to and from the space station with two crew members on board the Dragon in August was the first space flight by NASA astronauts to be launched from US soil in nine years after the end of the shuttle program.
NASA officials just signed the final design of Crew Dragon earlier this week, completing a nearly 10-year development phase for SpaceX under the space agency’s public-private crew program.
The advent of Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon marks a new era of commercially developed spacecraft owned by a private entity, not NASA, that are used to put Americans into orbit.
“The story that is being written this time is that we are launching a so-called operational flight to the International Space Station,” said NASA chief Jim Bridenstine at a press conference at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday.
Mr. Musk, the Silicon Valley billionaire who is also the managing director of electric car marketer and battery maker Tesla Inc, usually personally participates in high profile SpaceX missions. However, his presence for the launch was questioned Thursday after he said he ran a series of four coronavirus diagnostic tests, two of which were positive and two were negative.
When asked if Mr Musk would be in the take-off control room to take off, Mr Bridenstine said the agency’s policies required staff to quarantine and self-isolate after testing positive for the disease.
Whether Mr Musk came into contact with the astronauts was unclear, but unlikely, as the crew had been in routine quarantine for weeks before the flight.
NASA commissioned SpaceX and Boeing to develop competing space capsules in 2014 to replace the shuttle program ending in 2011 and free the US from reliance on Russian missiles to send US astronauts into space.
Boeing’s first test mission with crew and Starliner capsule is planned for the end of next year.
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