Update 3:28 p.m. MAY 27:
The first manned launch of SpaceX's Dragon Capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket was called off roughly 20 minutes before the slated launch on Wednesday afternoon due to weather issues. Tropical Storm Bertha had been giving NASA officials some concern throughout the day, and although the pair of astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, slated for the ride were suited up, toted out to the pad and loaded into the capsule, in the end the standards for electrical frequency in the air (aka lightning, essentially) were not going to be being met.
The launch was scrubbed and liquid oxygen and fuel were being unloaded from the vehicle within minutes of the announcement. The next launch window is scheduled for 1:22 p.m. CST this Saturday.
Get ready, Space City, because a new era of spaceflight is about to lift off. When veteran NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley take to the sky on Wednesday, they will make history, becoming the first space travelers to be launched from U.S. soil since the end of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011. It will also be the first time a private spaceflight company, in this case Elon Musk’s SpaceX, will fling astronauts into orbit.
The SpaceX Demo-2 mission, which launches from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 27, is the first human launch of NASA’s Commercial Crew program. The program is intended to develop vehicles with private aerospace companies to take astronauts to the International Space Station and other destinations in low-Earth orbit. SpaceX has already been resupplying the space station, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a news briefing May 1, adding, “We’re very hopeful that SpaceX will be taking our astronauts all the way to the moon in the not-so-distant future.”
After being launched from atop a Falcon 9 rocket, Behnken and Hurley will fly to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. The upcoming mission is the last step before NASA certifies Dragon Crew for operational, long-duration missions to the space station. NASA’s ultimate goal, of course, is to send humans back to the moon by 2024 and, eventually, on to Mars through the Artemis program.
For the last nine years, the U.S. has relied on Russia for transportation to and from the space station, making the upcoming launch a highly anticipated moment for Houston’s own Johnson Space Center, home of NASA’s Mission Control and astronaut training center.
“There is a certain amount of risk that you only have one vehicle that is human-rated to take astronauts to and from the space station,” says William T. Harris, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, the official visitor center of JSC. “So, with the SpaceX launch vehicle, and, ultimately, we’ll have the Boeing Starliner, we’ll have three ways to transport astronauts.”
This historic moment is coming to fruition as other recent news shook up the space community: Doug Loverro, NASA’s chief of human spaceflight, abruptly resigned last week after only six months on the job. Even with the staffing shakeup, there’s a kind of poeticism in the upcoming launch. Not only does 2020 mark the 20th anniversary of continued human presence aboard the International Space Station, Hurley piloted the final launch of the space shuttle program, STS-135, in July 2011.
“I happen to have been one of the four astronauts to close out the space shuttle program,” Hurley said after arriving at Kennedy Space Center on May 20. “It's incredibly humbling to be here to start out the next launch from the United States.”
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is set to launch at 3:33 p.m. CT. NASA will live-stream the launch; coverage begins at 11:15 a.m. CT. Space Center Houston has put together a guide to help you host your own watch party, including a space-themed Spotify playlist, and a space-themed food menu, and DIY decorations.