Musk"s SpaceX poised for historic rocket launch, while Branson"s Orbit fails"

Pablo Tucker
May 31, 2020

The test flight will carry two American astronauts, making it the first human spaceflight from US soil since the last Space Shuttle mission in 2011.

The countdown clock officially begins running on Tuesday morning - but the two astronauts who are due to ride the Dragon, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, will have a relatively light day, consisting of technical briefings mixed with rest and relaxation. The US space agency awarded $6.8bn in 2014, $2.6bn to SpaceX and $4.2 to Boeing, to develop, test and fly human-rated spacecraft in low earth orbit.

Boeing's CST-100 Starliner capsule failed to reach the ISS during an uncrewed orbital test mission in December and further testing dates are under review.

Noguchi is a 55-year-old veteran of two space missions, having been aboard U.S. Space Shuttle Discovery in 2005 and Russian Soyuz spacecraft for an extended stay on the ISS between 2009 and 2010. Three hours prior to take-off, they will hop into a custom Tesla Model X transit vehicle to make their way to the Crew Dragon capsule.

The emerging private space industry includes Blue Origin, owned by Amazon's founder, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, rivals in the space tourism market.

In the end, it was an electrically charged atmosphere, literally, that prompted SpaceX and NASA to scrub the launch, even as the rocket was being loaded with fuel.

On Monday, the US Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron predicted a 60 percent chance of unfavourable weather.

"If I was to issue the forecast today, right now, we would probably be down to 40 percent chance of violation".

SpaceX needs relatively calm waves and wind up the USA and Canadian seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland, in case astronauts Hurley and Behnken need to make an emergency splashdown.

"If the weather gods are working with us", Koenigsmann said, "liftoff will occur at 4:33 p.m. SpaceX has a split-second launch window".

The Dragon capsule is well-equipped as its emergency escape system can kick in if needed, all the way up to orbit. But for most of the flight, including the station docking, the Dragon will be under autonomous control.

SpaceX has set up two recovery ships off the coast of Florida, and NASA has two military cargo planes ready to take off when needed.

For years now, NASA has been forced to rely on others to send its astronauts into space. Hurley and Behnken may be called upon to put in a tour of duty that's longer than originally scheduled - and help out with tasks including a couple of spacewalks.

The presence of visiting dignitaries, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and billionaire SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk added to the high-pressure mood at the Kennedy Space Center.

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