Launch officials announced a 16:17 On Wednesday that bad weather would have prevented a SpaceX rocket and capsule from taking off from a Florida launch pad, bringing NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on the first manned space flight to take off from American soil in almost a decade.
There was a 50% chance that the flight would be “canceled” or postponed, due to the weather conditions on Wednesday morning. Rain along the flight path and the development of nearby afternoon thunderstorms were the main concerns for the launch, as Florida has faced heavy rains from a tropical disturbance in recent days.
In the event that problems with the rocket arise after take-off, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule has the ability to detach from the rocket and fly astronauts to safety. But to make sure they crash safely, SpaceX must monitor weather conditions across a wide swathe of the Atlantic Ocean to prepare for any possible disruption scenario.
The 45th Space Wing, an army weapon that oversees all East Coast missile launches, monitors the weather and shares its information with NASA and SpaceX.
The launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is slated to move forward over the weekend, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, which has blocked both private and government operations in the United States. NASA says it must continue with the mission to maintain the International Space Station, a gigantic orbiting laboratory, fully equipped with U.S. astronauts.
The top space agency official, Jim Bridenstine, also said he hopes this launch will inspire awe and raise the public during the ongoing health crisis.
On the ground in Florida, local authorities were preparing for an expected influx of spectators who expected to gather on nearby beaches, which were recently reopened after weeks of freezing during the battle against Covid-19. But NASA did not welcome any visitors to the launch site. A few dozen journalists have been authorized to cover the launch from the Kennedy Space Center press area, but strict social removal policies and guidelines on the use of masks have been implemented. Bridenstine held most of the telephone briefings, for example, and in-person interviews were conducted one by one with reporters.
The launch also intends to serve as a sort of litmus test for NASA’s push to collaborate more widely with the private sector.
SpaceX developed Crew Dragon as part of NASA’s commercial crew program, which, for the first time in the history of the space agency, has delivered much of the design, development and testing of new human-level spacecraft to the sector private. NASA awarded SpaceX and Boeing fixed price contracts to complete the job, but that decision was not without controversy, particularly in the early days of the Commercial Crew Program. But if the SpaceX flight is a success, it could be viewed as a huge victory for NASA people who hope to rely more on similar contracts to help achieve the space agency’s goals.
Bridenstine, for example, hopes to rely heavily on private sector partnerships to achieve the space agency’s ambitious goal of landing US astronauts on the moon in 2024.
“Ultimately, what we are trying to achieve is to have numerous suppliers competing with each other in terms of costs, innovation and safety. And then NASA can be a customer, a customer of many customers, and we already know that this will save a tons of long-term cash, “Bridenstine told CNN Business’s Rachel Crane.
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