The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft attached sits on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 27th in Cape Canaveral, Florida ahead of its planned launch. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty

Binoculars at the ready: Elon Musk rocket to be seen in Irish skies tonight


Irish skywatchers should be able to get a brief glimpse this evening of billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket shortly after its launch from Florida.

SpaceX, which will carry two Nasa astronauts, will make history by being the first privately funded spaceship to launch humans into orbit.

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will travel aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

It is the culmination of 10 years of development by the eccentric California billionaire who is the chief executive of Tesla and the founder of SpaceX the aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company.

The rocket launches from Cape Canaveral at 9.33pm Irish time. US president Donald Trump and his wife Melania will both be in attendance unless the launch is cancelled because of bad weather.

It will be visible at 9.53pm to the left of the rising moon in Irish skies and near the horizon. However, binoculars and clear conditions will be needed, says astronomer John Flannery.

The Crew Dragon will arrive at the International Space Station 19 hours after launch. It is the first time since 2011 that the US has had the capacity to launch its own people into space since the demise of the space shuttle.

The launch marks a significant new departure in the history of space exploration which to date has been left almost exclusively to nation states who have the vast resources to pay for it.

‘The big show’

“We are on the cusp of launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil yet again,” said Jim Bridenstine, the Nasa administrator, who referred to Wednesday’s planned launch as “the big show”.

“This time we’re doing it differently than we’ve ever done it before. Nasa is not going to purchase, own and operate the hardware the way we used to. We are partnering with commercial industry with the intent that they would go get customers that are not Nasa, drive down our costs and increase the access to space.”

The goal is for the public and private sectors to coalese in the coming decades to return humans to the moon and then go on to Mars in the middle of the next decade.

Astronomy Ireland chairman David Moore said this evening’s launch is the “most historic sight most people will see in their lifetimes as history will record this flight as the first step in the colonisation of space”.