Sat | Nov 28, 2020

SpaceX rocket to take historic flight

Published:Saturday | May 30, 2020 | 12:00 AMAP
NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley, left, and Robert Behnken walk out of the Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building on their way to Pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida today. The two astronauts will fly on a SpaceX test flight to the International Space Station. For the first time in nearly a decade, astronauts will blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil, a first for a private company (AP photo).

(AP) — Two NASA astronauts climbed into their capsule today for a second attempt at a history-making ride into orbit aboard a rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk's SpaceX company.

Stormy weather had threatened another postponement most of the day, but the outlook improved markedly in the afternoon, just ahead of the scheduled 3:22 p.m. liftoff of the 270-foot Falcon 9 in what would be the first launch of astronauts into orbit by a private company. 

Their destination: the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth.

It would also be NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.

The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the US over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis Police. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would lift American spirits.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine said.

Veteran astronauts to man shuttle

Veteran astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken pulled on their angular, white-and-black spacesuits with help from technicians wearing masks, gloves and black hoods that made them look like ninjas.

Before setting out for the launch pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV — another Musk product — Behnken pantomimed a hug of his six-year-old son, Theo, and said: “Are you going to listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.

SpaceX and NASA monitored the weather not just at Kennedy Space Center, where rain, thick clouds and the chance of lightning threatened another postponement, but all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland. Waves and wind need to be within certain limits in case the astronauts have to make an emergency splashdown on the way to orbit.

Wednesday’s countdown of the rocket and its bullet-shaped Dragon capsule was halted at just under 17 minutes, because of the threat of lightning. 

Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station.

NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to taxi astronauts to and from the space station, under contracts totalling $7 billion. Both companies launched their crew capsules last year with test dummies. SpaceX’s Dragon aced all of its objectives, while Boeing’s Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and was almost destroyed because of software errors. 

As a result, the first Starliner flight carrying astronauts isn’t expected until next year.

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