Update, 4:31 p.m. ET: After canceling a planned launch earlier this week due to bad weather, SpaceX successfully launched NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley into orbit on the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft Saturday.
Today was a day of firsts. It was the first launch of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since 2011, the year the Space Shuttle program was retired. In the period since then, NASA has paid Russia’s space program to take its astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). It was also a first for SpaceX, founded by tech billionaire Elon Musk, which became the first private company to launch astronauts into orbit.
Behnken and Hurley lifted off at 3:22 p.m. ET from the historic Launch Complex 39A, the same launch pad used for the Apollo mission that took Americans to the Moon, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Shortly after liftoff, the first Falcon 9 booster successfully landed on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
The astronauts will take control of the Crew Dragon for two manual flight tests during the trip to the ISS in order to demonstrate their ability to control the spacecraft in case there are ever issues with the spacecraft’s automated flight system.
According to NASA, the Crew Dragon spacecraft is expected to dock to the ISS on Sunday morning at around 10:29 ET. It is an approximately 19-hour ride.
Bad weather stopped the much-anticipated countdown earlier this week, but SpaceX and NASA will try again today to launch a Crew Dragon to space with astronauts on board. You can catch the action live right here.
NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will once again don their fancy new SpaceX suits today in hopes of reaching low Earth orbit. Launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, with its Crew Dragon spacecraft nestled up top, is scheduled for 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT). You can watch it live right here courtesy of NASA TV, with coverage starting at 11:00 a.m. ET (8:00 a.m. PT).
It’s all very exciting, and our eyes will be fixed on Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as a successful launch will mark SpaceX’s first foray into human spaceflight. Just as importantly, it’ll be the first time in nine years that American astronauts will launch from U.S. soil.
The first attempt at launch this past Wednesday was scrubbed due to poor weather conditions.
“There was simply too much electricity in the atmosphere,” explained NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine at a press conference after the launch was postponed. “There wasn’t a lightning storm or anything like that, but there was a concern if we did launch it could trigger lightning.”
As NASA reports, both the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft “remain in good shape and stand ready for launch at the pad.” As on Wednesday, the only remaining hurdle is the weather, and once again it doesn’t look great. On Friday, the U.S. Air Force assigned a 50 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for today’s launch. Specific weather concerns have to do with the potential for rain and the buildup of anvil and cumulus clouds.
Should today’s launch be scrubbed, NASA and SpaceX will try again on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET (12:00 p.m. PT). Sadly, the forecast for Sunday doesn’t look fantastic, either, with the Air Force assigning a 40 percent chance of favorable launch conditions.
Behnken and Hurley, both of whom have been to space before, are scheduled to dock at the International Space Station on Sunday at 10:29 a.m. ET (7:29 a.m. PT). Once at the ISS, the duo will join NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. No date has been set for the return of the Crew Dragon, but the spacecraft can stay docked for upwards of 100 days.