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SpaceX’s first astronaut launch called off over weather concerns

Image credit: reuters

The first attempt by Nasa to send astronauts into space using a private firm has been delayed due to concerns about the weather.

On Wednesday (27 May), Elon Musk’s SpaceX was due to send astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) at around 9.30pm UK time.

Looming rain and thunderstorms meant that the first launch of astronauts from US soil in nine years had to be aborted just 16 minutes and 54 seconds before the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was due to launch.

An estimated 1.7 million people from around the world had tuned in to watch the launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

“There wasn’t really a lightning storm, but there was a concern that if we did launch it could trigger lightning,” Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine explained afterwards. “I know there is a lot of disappointment today. The weather got us.”

SpaceX will make a second attempt on Saturday afternoon (30 May) at 8:22pm UK time.

Bridenstine added: “I also wanted to say this was really a great day for Nasa, it was a great day for SpaceX. I think our teams worked together in a really impressive way, making good decisions all along. We have a lot to look forward to. In just a few short days on Saturday afternoon we are going to do it again.

“Here is what we know: we are going to launch American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil. We are going to do that. We are very close.”

The two astronauts had been strapped into their seats for a little over two hours before the launch was called off and had to remain there until all the fuel in the rocket was unloaded and the emergency escape system was disarmed.

Before exiting the Crew Dragon capsule, Hurley, who is the commander of the spacecraft, said: “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. Understand that everybody’s probably a little bit bummed out. That’s just part of the deal.”

British astronaut Tim Peake said it was a shame that the SpaceX launch was postponed, but added: “The rules are there in the interest of safety”.

The mission, named Demo-2, would have seen SpaceX become the first private company to send astronauts into space.

Since ending its Space Shuttle programme in 2011, Nasa has depended on Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to transport its astronauts to the space station.

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