Washington, 28 May 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The historic launch of US astronauts into space from US soil for the first time since 2011 was called off on Wednesday due to poor weather.
NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were already aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, preparing to blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida when they were informed that the launch was scrubbed.
“No launch for today – safety for our crew members @Astro_Doug and @AstroBehnken is our top priority,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted.
The announcement came just minutes before the much-anticipated take off due to the danger of lightning, and after thunderstorms had threatened to delay the event all day.
The poor weather was expected to clear just 10 minutes after the scheduled take-off, but that could not wait because there are only small time windows that work with the space station’s orbit.
“We could see some raindrops on the windows and just figured that whatever it was was too close to the launch pad at the time we needed it not to be,” Hurley said after the flight was scrubbed.
“We appreciate that and understand that everybody’s probably a little bit bummed out, it’s just part of the deal.”
The next launch attempt is slated for Saturday.
The astronauts on the Demo-2 mission are to head to the International Space Station (ISS), marking the first launch from US territory in nearly a decade and the first time for a private firm, rather than a government space agency, to send astronauts to orbit.
Since the US stopped its own launches in 2011 under then-president Barack Obama to focus on deep space missions, the country’s space programme has relied on hitching rides aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, at a growing cost.
US President Donald Trump wished the astronauts “good luck” before the blast-off was postponed.
“It’s a dangerous business but they are the best there is, so we just want them to be safe,” he said.
It was unclear if the president, who travelled to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch alongside Vice President Mike Pence, would return for the next attempt.
The large crowds that would have typically watched the event were missing, as NASA has urged the public to stay away due to the coronavirus pandemic, although many people were expected to tune into the livestream.
SpaceX, the Elon Musk-founded aerospace company which built the rocket and capsule, has a history of cargo launches to the ISS.
The company has reached the station about 20 times with supplies, including scientific gear, but this will be its first human cargo.
It was set to be the final flight test for the SpaceX system to be certified for regular crew flights to the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew programme.
“What today is about is reigniting the dream of space and getting people fired up about the future,” Musk said ahead of the planned launch.
NASA has been given a shot in the arm by Trump, who is pushing to get US astronauts back to the moon in 2024 as part of efforts to eventually send a crewed mission to Mars.
Trump is on a campaign to stamp his name over the renewed space programme, which comes alongside a militarized angle with the recent creation of Space Force, a new branch of the armed forces.
The US is seeking fresh dominance in space, as China continues to develop its capacities, amid growing competition between the world’s two largest economies.