1st SpaceX-NASA human mission in private spacecraft delayed due to weather

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
  • Follow author on
SpaceX Image
Representational Image

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Elon Musk owned rocket company SpaceX announced a 24-hour weather delay in their scheduled launch of four astronauts into orbit for NASA’s first full-fledged human mission using a private spacecraft.

Due to forecasts of gusty, onshore winds over Florida in the US, that would have made a return landing difficult for the Falcon 9 rocket’s reusable booster stage, NASA officials said the liftoff time slipped from Saturday to Sunday evening.

The newly built Crew Dragon capsule of SpaceX, named “Resilience” by its crew, has been rescheduled to be launched on top of the Falcon 9 at 12:27 AM on 16th November from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in the US

Three American astronauts Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and the mission commander, Mike Hopkins, a colonel of the US Air Force, are part of the crew for the flight to the International Space Station (ISS).

Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi is the fourth member of the crew, making his third trip to orbit after flying a US space shuttle in 2005 and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2009.

The journey to the space station which is extended by the new launch time from around eight hours to a little over a day, is considered SpaceX’s first “operational” mission for the Crew Dragon.

In August, a so-called vehicle test flight to and from the space station with two crew members onboard the Dragon marked the first NASA astronaut space flight to be launched from US soil in nine years following the end of the shuttle program.

It was only earlier this week that NASA officials signed off on Crew Dragon’s final design, completing a nearly 10-year production process for SpaceX under the public-private crew program of the space agency.

The introduction of the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon marks a new age of privately built space vehicles being used to take Americans into orbit, which is owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA.

“The history being made this time is we’re launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said at a press conference at Kennedy Space Center.

Presence of Elon Musk

Mr. Musk, the billionaire titan who is also the chief executive of Tesla, a manufacturer of electric cars and batteries, usually attends high-profile SpaceX missions in person. But his participation for the launch became doubtful after he said he had taken a series of four diagnostic tests for coronavirus recently, with two positive and two negative tests coming back.

Asked if Mr. Musk will be in the liftoff launch control room, Mr Bridenstine said the agency policy needed employees to quarantine and self-isolate after testing positive for the disease, “so we expect that to happen.”

It is unclear, though unlikely, whether Mr. Musk had come into contact with the astronauts because the crew had been in routine quarantine for weeks prior to the flight.

In 2014, NASA contracted SpaceX and Boeing, to build competing space capsules aimed at replacing the 2011 shuttle program and ending the US reliance on Russian rockets to take US astronauts into space.

The first crewed Boeing test flight with its Starliner capsule is scheduled for late next year.