Storms threaten more delays as SpaceX prepares for new space attempt
Saturday’s rescheduled departure would be the first time astronauts have been launched from Cape Canaveral since 2011.
SpaceX pressed ahead with its second attempt to launch astronauts for Nasa, a historic first for a private company, but more stormy weather threatened more delays.
Elon Musk’s company came within 17 minutes on Wednesday of launching a pair of Nasa astronauts for the first time in nearly a decade from the US, before the threat of lightning forced a delay.
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said managers were debating whether to bump the next launch attempt from Saturday to Sunday to take advantage of a slightly improved forecast at Kennedy Space Centre.
At an outdoor news conference on Friday, Mr Bridenstine stressed the need for safety for astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, no matter how many times it takes to launch them in a SpaceX Dragon capsule on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station.
“We cannot forget this is a test flight. This – is – a – test — flight,” he repeated.
“We will go when everything is as safe as we can possibly make it.”
Forecasters put the odds of acceptable weather conditions Saturday at 50-50, with the outlook improving to 60% favorable on Sunday.
Rain and clouds were the main concerns for both days.
While Nasa urged spectators to stay home because of the pandemic, prime viewing spots at area parks and beaches were packed on Wednesday.
A weekend launch could draw even bigger crowds.
The Kennedy Space Centre Visitor Complex reopened Thursday, after a 2 1/2-month shutdown, and within a few hours, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up for Saturday’s launch attempt.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were expected to return for the Saturday attempt.
The number of employees, journalists and guests inside remained extremely limited because of the pandemic.
Whether an attempt is made Saturday or Sunday: “There will be no pressure. We will launch when we’re ready,” Bridenstine said.
The last time astronauts launched to orbit from the US was in 2011 when Atlantis closed out the 30-year space shuttle programme.
Mr Hurley was on that mission as well.
Nasa hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to get the ball rolling again, kicking off a commercial revolution for getting people to low-Earth orbit, according to officials.
In the meantime, Nasa has spent billions of dollars to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules for US astronauts, in order to keep the space station staffed.
Boeing’s first astronaut flight, on the company’s Starliner capsule, is not expected until next year.
Mr Bridenstine offered high praise for Mr Musk on Friday and all his personal touches: trendy spacesuits, Tesla rides to the launch pad, a colour-coordinated rocket and capsule — and more.
Mr Musk has brought “vision and inspiration” to the American space programme, Mr Bridenstine said.
While there is occasionally a little tension between Nasa and SpaceX, “he gives me a commitment and he delivers on that commitment.
“That has happened every single time.”