May 30, 2020 7:31 PM

🎥 History: SpaceX rocket lifts off with 2 Americans

Posted May 30, 2020 7:31 PM
Moments after lift off of the SpaceX rocket with 2 Americans on board -image courtesy NASA
Moments after lift off of the SpaceX rocket with 2 Americans on board -image courtesy NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has lifted off with two Americans on a history-making flight to the International Space Station.

Click here to watch additional coverage of the flight from NASA

The spacecraft took off Saturday afternoon from the same launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, that was used during the Apollo missions to the moon a half-century ago. The flight ushers in a new era in commercial space travel and marks the first time NASA has launched astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly a decade. Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan to take U.S. astronauts took and from the space station.

Lift off at 2:22 p.m. CDT Saturday -image courtesy NASA
Lift off at 2:22 p.m. CDT Saturday -image courtesy NASA

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Despite more storms in the forecast, two NASA astronauts climbed into their capsule Saturday for a second attempt at a history-making ride into orbit aboard a rocket ship designed and built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.

Click here to watch the launch 

With the flight already delayed three days by bad weather, forecasters put the odds of acceptable conditions at 50-50 for the 2:22 p.m. CDT liftoff of the 270-foot Falcon 9 in what would be the first launch of astronauts into orbit by a private company.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken just 10 minutes ahead of the launch on Saturday -image courtesy NASA
Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken just 10 minutes ahead of the launch on Saturday -image courtesy NASA

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 U.S. 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 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 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 6-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 U.S. astronauts to and from the space station.

“I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t nervous,” Bridenstine said before the launch attempt. “We want to do everything we can to minimize the risk, minimize the uncertainty, so that Bob and Doug will be safe.”

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence planned to return for the second launch attempt.

Because of the coronavirus, NASA severely limited the number of employees, visitors and journalists allowed deep inside Kennedy Space Center, and the crowd was relatively small, at a few thousand. At the center’s tourist complex, though, all 4,000 tickets were snapped up in a few hours.

The space agency urged people to stay safe and watch from home, and by NASA’s count, at least 1.14 million viewers followed the launch preparation online. But spectators also began lining the Cape Canaveral area’s beaches and roads. Signs along the main beach drag read, “Godspeed.”

Among the spectators was Neil Wight, a machinist from Buffalo, New York, who staked out a view of the launch pad from a park in Titusville.

“It’s pretty historically significant in my book and a lot of other people’s books. With everything that’s going on in this country right now, it’s important that we do things extraordinary in life,” Wight said. “We’ve been bombarded with doom and gloom for the last six, eight weeks, whatever it is, and this is awesome. It brings a lot of people together.”

NASA hired SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to taxi astronauts to and from the space station, under contracts totaling $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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NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley (left) and Robert Behnken (right) participate in a dress rehearsal for launch at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2020, ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station.  The launch is now scheduled for 2:22 p.m. CDT Saturday Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — 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.

Click here to watch the launch

Elon Musk’s company came within 17 minutes Wednesday of launching a pair of NASA astronauts for the first time in nearly a decade from the U.S., before the threat of lightning forced a delay.

With more storms ahead, managers debated Friday whether to bump the next launch attempt from Saturday to Sunday to take advantage of slightly improved forecast at Kennedy Space Center.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted that no decision was made, and they would reassess the situation Saturday morning.

At an earlier outdoor news conference, 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 atop 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.

Bridenstine said back-to-back tries would be tough on the launch team — and the astronauts — given that this is a test flight.

Hurley and Behnken, veterans of two space shuttle flights, have both faced launch delays before. In a tweet Friday, Hurley said his first shuttle flight was scrubbed five times for weather and technical issues.

“We’re ready for the next launch opportunity!” Behnken tweeted.

While NASA had urged spectators to stay home Wednesday because of the pandemic, prime viewing spots at area parks and beaches were packed. A weekend launch could draw even bigger crowds. The Kennedy Space Center 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 planning to return Saturday to watch from inside Kennedy. The number of employees, journalists and guests allowed at the space center remained extremely limited because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Whether an attempt is made Saturday or Sunday, “There will be no pressure. We will launch when we’re ready,” Bridenstine said.

Liftoff on Saturday would be 3:22 p.m. EDT.

The last time astronauts launched to orbit from the U.S. was in 2011 when Atlantis closed out the 30-year space shuttle program. Hurley was on that mission as well.

Full Coverage: Space Launch

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. In the meantime, NASA has spent billions of dollars to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules for U.S. 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.

Bridenstine offered high praise for Musk on Friday and all his personal touches: spiffy spacesuits, Tesla rides to the launch pad, a color-coordinated rocket and capsule — and more.

Musk has brought “vision and inspiration” to the American space program, Bridenstine said. While there’s 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.”

The California-based SpaceX is also developing a rocket and spaceship designed to go to the moon and Mars.

On Friday, a prototype of its Starship exploded while undergoing a routine engine test at the company’s Texas site. The ship vented large amount of gases and was engulfed in a tremendous fireball.

SpaceX did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

NASA, which has a contract with SpaceX to develop Starship for its lunar landing program, has no problems going ahead with this weekend’s unrelated launch of astronauts from Cape Canaveral, agency spokesman Bob Jacobs.

“That’s a test program. That’s why they test,” Jacobs said.

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