The countdown has begun for the launch Elon Musk’s SpaceX Dragon Demo-2, a mission that will send NASA astronauts into space from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade. The craft is set to launch today at 4:33 p.m. EST.
American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and fly to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Crew Dragon capsule. The last such launch came in July 2011 and became the final mission of NASA’s space shuttle program.
Crew Dragon Demo-2 will also be the first two-person orbital spaceflight launched from the U.S. since STS-4 in 1982.
“It’s just been an incredible journey to get us this far, and in some ways it’s really hard to believe we’re gonna launch next week, but it’s incredibly exciting,” Hurley said last week during a meeting of the National Space Council, a policy-steering body led by Vice President Mike Pence.
“It’s a real honor to just be a part of this program and to launch American rockets from Florida one more time,” said Hurley, 53, who was on board that last space shuttle flight.
Hurley, the mission commander, and Behnken will conduct experiments on board the ISS, where they are scheduled to stay for one to four months, until the next Crew Dragon launch. They will then return to Earth for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean east of Cape Canaveral.
“Our country has been through a lot,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday in a news briefing. “But this is a unique moment when all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again, and that is to launch American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the space station.”
But NBC reported that weather is a factor.
NASA is, however, monitoring weather reports at the Florida launch site that may delay proceedings. The Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, which oversees space launch operations from the East Coast, currently forecasts a 50 percent chance that clouds or stormy weather will violate established launch safety guidelines. If that happens, NASA and SpaceX will have another opportunity to send the Crew Dragon capsule into orbit on Saturday.