SpaceX’s first manned rocket launch called off
Storm forces postponement with just 17 minutes left on countdownby Richard Waters
The attempt by Elon Musk’s SpaceX to become the first private company to lift humans into orbit was delayed on Wednesday as a storm system off the coast of Florida failed to clear in time for the scheduled late-afternoon launch.
The countdown was suspended with less than 17 minutes to go to the historic launch, forcing the company to postpone the mission until Saturday. SpaceX is attempting to become the first to take astronauts to the International Space Station on a privately owned and operated spaceship, ushering in a new age for commercial space travel.
President Donald Trump was on hand for the aborted launch, which would have ended a nine-year drought in human space flights from US soil. Since the Space Shuttle was retired in 2011, Nasa has been forced to buy seats on Russian rockets to take its astronauts to the International Space Station.
Nasa’s Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first astronauts due to fly in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule. The mission, which has been reset for 3.22pm local time on Saturday, is scheduled to be the final test of the spaceship before it begins carrying paying passengers later this year. The capsule is due to dock with the International Space Station some 19 hours after launch, where the astronauts will spend up to 119 days before returning for a splashdown at sea.
If the mission is completed successfully, it will open the way to greater commercialisation of low earth orbit. The first customers are expected to be other government space programmes and private tourists.
Nasa has also given private space companies key roles in its next planned human landing on the moon, which the Trump administration has called for by 2024. SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin were awarded contracts last month to do feasibility studies for moon landers.
Nasa is also planning to use private companies to build a “lunar gateway”, a space station orbiting the moon that can be used as a way-station for trips down to the lunar surface or to launch missions further out into the solar system.