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SpaceX, NASA set for landmark launch of two U.S. astronauts

Reuters | Updated: 31-05-2020 00:23 IST | Created: 31-05-2020 00:21 IST
SpaceX, NASA set for landmark launch of two U.S. astronauts
The mission's first launch try on Wednesday was called off with less than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock due to stormy weather around the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Image Credit: Max Pixel

Final preparations were underway as Elon Musk's private rocket company SpaceX was set for a repeat attempt at launching two Americans into orbit for a mission that would be the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years. Whether that might have led to another postponement appeared to have cleared with launch probability increased to 70 percent. The emergency escape system has been armed and fueling of the rocket was underway.

The mission's first launch try on Wednesday was called off with less than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock due to stormy weather around the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Barring unforeseen problems, the 24-story-tall SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 3:22 p.m. EDT (19:22 GMT), propelling astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aloft on their 19-hour ride to the International Space Station.

They will be carried there inside the newly-designed Crew Dragon capsule, making its first flight into orbit with humans aboard. The launchpad is the same one used by NASA's final space shuttle flight, piloted by Hurley, in 2011. Since then, NASA astronauts have had to hitch rides into orbit aboard Russia's Soyuz spacecraft.

As the crew bid goodbye to their families before getting into a specially-designed Tesla for the ride to the launch site, Behnken told his young son, "Be good for mom. Make her life easy." During the drive, Behnken and Hurley passed former astronaut Garrett Reisman holding aside saying "Take me with you."

NASA chief Jim Bridenstine has said resuming launches of American astronauts on American-made rockets from U.S. soil is the space agency's top priority. For Musk, the launch represents another milestone for the reusable rockets his company pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and more frequent. And it would mark the first time commercially developed space vehicles - owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA - have carried Americans into orbit.

The last time NASA launched astronauts into space aboard a brand new vehicle was 40 years ago at the start of the space shuttle program. If the mission is scrubbed again, the next launch window would be Sunday afternoon.

Musk, the South African-born high-tech entrepreneur who made his fortune in Silicon Valley, is also CEO of the electric carmaker and battery manufacturer Tesla Inc. He founded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies, in 2002. Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, NASA employees under contract to fly with SpaceX, are expected to remain at the space station for several weeks, assisting a short-handed crew aboard the orbital laboratory.

Boeing Co, producing its own launch system in competition with SpaceX, is expected to fly its CST-100 Starliner vehicle with astronauts aboard for the first time next year. NASA has awarded nearly $8 billion to SpaceX and Boeing combined for the development of their rival rockets.


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