A historic SpaceX launch that could revolutionize NASA space exploration was delayed with just 16 minutes to take-off due to bad weather on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, we are not going to launch today,” SpaceX launch director Mike Taylor said from the Kennedy Space Station.
The space agency said they will be trying again Saturday afternoon.
The SpaceX Demo-2 test flight was expected to mark a major milestone for the United States on Wednesday as the first all-American flight into orbit since 2011.
But bad weather conditions had been a concern for the space agency throughout the day, and with less than 30 minutes to lift-off, the odds of acceptable launch weather were at less than 50 per cent.
Taylor called the scrub once the agency was informed of dangers posed by lightning as a result of the atmosphere being so electrically charged.
The rescheduled Falcon 9 rocket launch will still be manned by NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, who are expected to fly the spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.
According to NASA, Behnken and Hurley were among the first astronauts to begin working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human space vehicle and were selected for their “extensive test pilot and flight experience, including several missions on the space shuttle.”
Earlier during the day, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters the mission was more than just a simple test.
“All of this ultimately is for a purpose, and that is to get to Mars,” he said.
The flight demo will also lay the foundation for the space agency’s Artemis program, which aims to fly “the first woman and the next man” to the moon by 2024 for long-term exploration.
“We’re going to go to the moon to stay. We love Apollo. The Apollo era was fantastic. The problem is that it ended,” he said.
If successful, Bridenstine said he hopes it will help make space available to more people than ever before, and create a business model that will commercialize spaceflight.
“We are proving out a business model, a public-private partnership business model that ultimately will enable us to go to the moon, this time sustainably,” he said.
“Everybody can look up and say, ‘Look, the future is so much brighter than the present,’ and I really hope that this is an inspiration to the world.”
The SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is an autonomous vehicle that has never been tested before with astronauts on board. The brainchild of Elon Musk, the privately-owned company was founded in 2002 with the goal of making space transportation less expensive in order to make the colonization of Mars possible.
Bridenstine said he estimated it to be a $400 billion market, with the potential to appreciate to $1 trillion.
Complete with flashy new space suits, a robust abort system, touchscreen controls and a fresh new look for the SpaceX rocket, Musk said he hoped the launch would aid in the commercialization of space, as well as get young people interested in studying to become astronauts.
“When the government provides both the demand and the supply, you’re limited in what you’re able to do,” he said. “Now I think everybody recognizes we have to commercialize space.
“What today is about is reigniting the dream of space and getting people fired up about the future.”
The launch will be the spacecraft’s second test, but its first with astronauts onboard. It is slated to lift off out of Launch Complex 39A at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA said the goal of the flight test will provide data on “the performance of the Falcon 9 rocket, the Crew Dragon and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations.”
Bridenstine said it will also help re-establish direct communication with NASA’s orbital laboratory. Since the final flight of the space shuttle nine years ago, he said the agency’s crew members have been launching from Russian Soyuz capsules — a relationship he said NASA is “interested in maintaining.”
“This has been, I think, a bright, shiny object that demonstrates that space can unite people. It’s really above terrestrial geopolitics,” Bridenstine said.
“We’re launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We haven’t done this really since 2011, so this is a unique moment in time.”
If the test is completed, SpaceX said it will be looking to NASA to certify the spacecraft for operational crew missions to and from the ISS.
Once certified, SpaceX said in a release last month NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi have been assigned to fly on Dragon’s first six-month operational mission targeted for later this year.