SpaceXva on Saturday attempted to launch into space two NASA astronauts, after an attempt stopped last Wednesday for fear of lightning strikes. The mission is crucial: it is the first manned flight from the United States in nine years, and the first to be entrusted with a private company.
After a postponement on Wednesday due to unsafe weather, the first manned flight for the US company SpaceX would finally start on Saturday 30 May. NASA and SpaceX chief Elon Musk confirmed on Saturday morning that the weather, though uncertain, would not stop preparations for a 3:22 (7:22 PM GMT) launch from the Kennedy Space Center on the Atlantic coast of Florida, under President Donald Trump’s eyes.
“We’re preparing for launch today,” tweeted Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s chief, adding that the risk of cancellation due to bad weather was 50%. A postponement will remain possible until the end of the countdown, as last Wednesday.
We are moving forward with the launch today. The weather challenges remain with a 50% risk of cancellation. #LaunchAmerica
– Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 30, 2020
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will soon begin with exactly what they did on Wednesday: put on the white and black space suits that finally look like science fiction movies; farewell to their families; the convoy to the rocket in a Tesla electric car, an ad NASA offers Elon Musk that created the brand; and finally, the lengthy procedure for installing and preparing the Crew Dragon capsule, on top of the rocket, which will propel them into space at five times the speed of sound.
“It’s a dream come true. I didn’t think this day would really go,” Elon Musk said last Wednesday.
Availability of space at low cost
The mission may seem like a modest step in space exploration: “Bob” and “Doug” will go neither to the moon nor to Mars, only in the old space station ISS, 400 km from Earth, where Russians and Americans have been and have been since 1998.
However, NASA sees it as a “revolution” because SpaceX will give the United States access to space at low cost, cheaper than its previous programs. For SEK 3 billion granted since 2011, SpaceX has completely developed a new space taxi and promised its client six return trips to ISS.
“Elon Musk has given the American space program the vision and inspiration we have been missing for nine years since the space shuttle came to an end. He is brilliant and capable,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine praised on Friday.
Trust must be won. Elon Musk knew nothing about rockets when he founded SpaceX in 2002. His first three launches failed. One rocket exploded on the ground with a valuable satellite in the lid, another shortly after launch with refueling for ISS. Last year, the Dragon capsule itself exploded during a ground engine test. The program should have started in 2017.
In the end, NASA officials gave the green light to entrust SpaceX with two of its astronauts. They speak of this partnership in extremely laudable terms: the person responsible for the manned commercial flights elicited the “miracle” achieved through the cooperation between the two teams.
Ejectable capsule in emergency situations
On Saturday, in the legendary Kennedy Center ignition room, it won’t be a NASA man who will provide the ultimate “go” for takeoff, but SpaceX launch director Michael Taylor, the agency’s space agency official, doesn’t matter in the countdown.
Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but version XXIecentury. Touch screens have replaced buttons and joysticks. The interior is dominated by white, the more subtle lighting. A single “umbilical cord” connects the suits to the seats to provide fresh air and communication for the two men.
Unlike the shuttles, of which one exploded in 1986 after take-off (Challenger), Dragon can throw himself in an emergency if the rocket has a problem.
If it is certified safe after its launch on Saturday, Americans will no longer be dependent on the Russians to gain access to space: Since 2011, Soyuz was the only space taxi available. Routes from Florida will return to normal, with four astronauts on board.