Scrub! Historic launch of NASA astronauts on SpaceX Crew Dragon will have to wait
Update: LIFTOFF of SpaceX Crew Dragon with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on a mission to the International Space Station. Read the full story here.
Despite checking off milestone after milestone, inclement weather around Kennedy Space Center came out ahead Wednesday, forcing NASA and SpaceX to scrub the historic launch of astronauts.
Veteran astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley had to stand down from their 4:33 p.m. launch from pad 39A, a mission that would have taken their Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station after a nearly decade-long hiatus in American crewed flight. The former space shuttle astronauts went through the paces for their mission, including a traditional breakfast of steak and eggs, suit-up at the historic Operations and Checkout Building, and a 20-minute ride to pad 39A in two Tesla SUVs.
The next opportunity to launch will be 3:22 p.m. Saturday, followed by another at 3 p.m. Sunday. The weather for both backup dates stands at 60% “go,” according to the Space Force’s latest forecast.
In post-scrub discussions with the astronauts on the pad, a SpaceX employee in mission control said the launch criteria violated by weather would most likely have cleared just 10 minutes after the planned launch time.
"We could see some raindrops on the windows," Hurley said after the scrub, still strapped into Crew Dragon while propellant was unloaded from the 230-foot-tall rocket below him. "We understand that everybody's probably a little bit bummed out. It's just part of the deal."
"Everybody was ready today and we appreciate that. The ship was great. We'll do it again on Saturday," he said.
Falcon 9 has to launch at exactly the specified time for ISS missions. As the space station slingshots around Earth at 17,000 mph some 250 miles in orbit, the rocket has to help the capsule achieve a precise intercept trajectory. A delay would mean it couldn't "catch up."
The Space Coast has dealt with dreary weather for several days, but Wednesday seemed to stand out, especially at KSC. Wave after wave of showers, gusts, and lightning were somehow topped when the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for a region just north of pad 39A. No tornado formed, but a spectacular shelf cloud rolled over the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building and launch pad, keeping weather rules “in the red.”
Visitors to KSC on Wednesday included President Trump, Vice President Pence, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, and at least half a dozen current and former astronauts. As the president flew in from Washington, D.C., he got a unique view of pad 39A as Air Force One pilots flew around the pad and Vehicle Assembly Building, finally landing at the former Shuttle Landing Facility.
Trump was scheduled to speak at a post-launch event, but did not do so when the mission was scrubbed. He tweeted that he plans on returning Saturday for the next attempt.
Before the attempt, however, he did speak with reporters and said it was a "labor of love" for Pence, who heads the National Space Council.
"I just want to say that this is a very exciting day for our country," Trump said. "We have been at this long and hard for three-and-a-half years."
The Commercial Crew Program, designed to return human spaceflight capabilities to the U.S. after the end of the space shuttle program, began in 2011. It has since selected SpaceX and Boeing spacecraft to deliver astronauts to the ISS.
"America needs to lead the world, sir, and you put us in the position to do that," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told the president.
Contact Emre Kelly at email@example.com or 321-242-3715. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly. Support his space journalism by subscribing at floridatoday.com/specialoffer/.