For fear of lightning, SpaceX postpones its first manned flight to Saturday
| May 28th 2020
After a day of suspense, the first manned flight of the American company SpaceX was postponed from Wednesday to Saturday due to the bad weather, while two NASA astronauts were already installed in the capsule at the top of the rocket which was to launch them to the International Space Station.
"Dragon, SpaceX: unfortunately, we are not going to launch today," SpaceX launch director announced to astronauts 17 minutes before the scheduled take-off time at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
"It was a great team effort, we understand," said astronaut Doug Hurley, who had been inside for more than two hours, strapped into his seat with teammate Bob Behnken, atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
It took ten minutes for the bad weather to dissipate, namely thunderstorms and lightning in the area, and the presence of a thick cloud called cumulonimbus that can cause lightning when passing rocket, as happened, without consequence, to the astronauts of Apollo 12 in 1969.
But safety comes first, said Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator: "There was too much electricity in the atmosphere."
The shooting window, 4.33 p.m., was reduced to this exact hour, in order to coordinate Dragon's orbit with that of the ISS.
The next attempt will take place on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. (7:22 p.m. GMT).
"Everyone is surely a little disappointed," said Doug Hurley later, sympathizing with the ground teams, who have been waiting for this moment for years.
Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley should have docked at the ISS on Thursday.
Donald Trump came to witness in person what NASA calls the dawn of a new space era, where the United States entrusts the transport of its astronauts to the private sector, and at the same time regains access to space that they lost in 2011 with the stop of the space shuttles.
But by postponing the flight, SpaceX has not drawn the wrath of the American president, who tweeted that he would return on Saturday.
Despite the temporary disappointment, this milestone is the embodiment of 18 years of effort for SpaceX.
"It's a dream come true, I didn't think it would ever happen," said Elon Musk, who founded the company with a few employees in 2002 in California, before the scheduled launch.
Before boarding the capsule, the astronauts had said goodbye to their families that they planned to leave for several months.
To their two young sons, Elon Musk had promised: "We have done everything we can to get your dads back."
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the flight was maintained and tourists and enthusiasts had settled on the beaches of the coast of Florida including the famous Cocoa Beach.
"I was there nine years ago with my son for the last launch of a shuttle, I was really looking forward to feeling the ground shake under my feet again", lamented June Steding, from Orlando.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., founded to break the rules of the aerospace industry, has gradually won the trust of the largest space agency on the planet.
In 2012, it became the first private company to tie up a cargo capsule to the ISS, which it has been supplying regularly. Two years later, NASA ordered him to follow up: send his astronauts there, starting in "2017", by adapting the Dragon capsule.
"If it goes wrong it will be my fault," said Elon Musk on CBS.
The space agency has paid more than three billion dollars for SpaceX to design, build, test and operate its reusable capsule for six future space round trips. The development experienced delays, explosions, parachute problems, but SpaceX beat the giant Boeing, also paid to make a capsule (Starliner), still not ready.
"A monumental success," said Jim Bridenstine, boss of NASA, paying tribute to the creativity and perseverance of society, to which it now entrusts its most precious resource, its astronauts.
Crew Dragon is a capsule like Apollo, but a 21st century version. Touch screens have replaced buttons and joysticks. The interior is dominated by white, the more subtle lighting.
"It is sure that all the pilots in the world will have more confidence if you give them a joystick than if you give them an iPad!" Joked Thomas Pesquet, the French astronaut who could be the first European to travel aboard the Dragon, in 2021.
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