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SpaceX sends NASA astronauts on historic trip

Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, sending NASA astronauts into orbit in a Crew Dragon capsule. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station today, becoming the first company to send humans to orbit on a commercial spaceship.

The Falcon 9 rocket’s liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT) marked a feat that Americans hadn’t been able to do since NASA retired the space shuttles in 2011: sending astronauts into orbit from a U.S. launch pad rather than relying on the Russians.

“It is absolutely our honor to be part of this huge effort to get the United States back in the launch business,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley told SpaceX Mission Control just before liftoff.

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Weather complicates SpaceX’s launch plans

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine takes a question during a briefing at Kennedy Space Center’s countdown clock with NASA astronaut Nicole Mann standing behind him. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

NASA and SpaceX are keeping a close eye on the weather in Florida and beyond as they get set for a second attempt to launch two NASA astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on May 30. Or maybe May 31.

During a briefing held today at the billboard-sized countdown clock at Kennedy Space Center, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said mission managers were weighing whether to skip the first opportunity and go for the one after that instead.

The forecast for May 31 is slightly better, with a 60% chance of acceptable weather as opposed to 50% for May 30. Rain and thick clouds are the primary concerns.

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Weather forces delay for SpaceX crewed launch

Air Force One and SpaceX rocket
Air Force One flies above Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, carrying President Donald Trump to witness SpaceX’s Crew Dragon launch. Liftoff was postponed until Saturday due to weather concerns. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The countdown for SpaceX’s first crewed launch to the International Space Station ran down to less than 17 minutes, but because the weather didn’t cooperate, history will have to wait until May 30 at the earliest.

SpaceX called off the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken sitting inside the Crew Dragon capsule on top, and President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence waiting in the wings. Liftoff would have marked the first-ever use of a privately owned spaceship for a crewed orbital launch, the first launch of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil since the space shuttles were retired in 2011, and the official start of a renaissance for U.S. spaceflight.

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NASA chief sees unifying moment in SpaceX launch

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, topped by the Crew Dragon capsule, lies in a prone position at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for its final pre-flight checkout. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

President Donald Trump plans to be on hand for the historic test launch of NASA astronauts in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, but NASA’s chief says the achievement transcends partisan lines.

“It’s not just going to unite Republicans and Democrats, it’s going to unite the world,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was a GOP congressman from Oklahoma before Trump chose him to take the space agency’s top post. “The whole world is going to be watching this particular launch.”

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Will weather clear for SpaceX Dragon launch?

SpaceX Dragon
The sun rises with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule sitting atop a Falcon 9 rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (SpaceX Photo / Ben Cooper)

Mission managers have cleared the final paperwork for SpaceX’s first-ever crewed launch, aimed at sending two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule.

The stage is now set for the first NASA mission to send humans into orbit from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2011.

Only one big question remained after today’s launch readiness review, which looked at all the technical issues surrounding the scheduled May 27 liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We’re burning down the final paper,” Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, told reporters during a teleconference. “All the teams were ‘go,’ and we’re continuing to make progress toward our mission. Now the only thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather.”

Today’s weather forecast called for a 60% chance of scrubbing the launch due to concerns about rain and clouds at the launch site. The weather was rainy at the Cape today, but Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer for the 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, said the outlook was improving.

“If I was to issue the forecast today, right now, we would probably be down to a 40% chance of violation. … So we have some hope for launch day,” McAleenan said.

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NASA and SpaceX rehearse for historic launch day

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken
NASA astronaut Bob Behnken waves to onlookers outside the Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, just before he and crewmate Doug Hurley get into a Tesla Model X car for the drive to Launch Complex 39A and a rehearsal of next week’s countdown. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA and SpaceX put astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and the rest of the team at Kennedy Space Center in Florida through a “dry dress rehearsal” today in preparation for next week’s historic launch to the International Space Station.

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NASA gives thumbs-up to crewed SpaceX mission

Falcon 9 static fire
SpaceX conducts a static-fire test for its Falcon 9 rocket in advance of its Crew Dragon launch. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA today signed off on the first launch to send a crew into orbit from U.S. soil in nearly nine years, and the rocket for that launch had its final test firing.

After reviewing mission plans for a day and a half, mission managers cleared SpaceX to send NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station at 4:33 p.m. ET (1:33 p.m. PT) May 27.

“We had a very successful flight readiness review, in that we did a thorough review of all the systems and all the risks,” NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk, who presided over this week’s meetings, said at KSC during a post-review news briefing. “It was unanimous on the board that we are go for launch.”

After the briefing, SpaceX fired up the first-stage engines on its Falcon 9 rocket at Launch Complex 39A, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, to conduct its traditional static-fire system check. In the wake of the test, SpaceX reported that everything was on track for the May 27 liftoff.

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Astronauts arrive in Florida to set new traditions

Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley take questions from journalists after their arrival at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA Photo)

Two NASA astronauts landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida today to go through a set of pre-launch traditions that haven’t been followed for nearly nine years — and create a few new traditions as well.

When Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken walked out of a NASA Gulfstream jet and met the press, they began a routine that’s due to climax next week with the first orbital launch from U.S. soil since the space shuttle fleet’s retirement in 2011.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is due to loft their commercial Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station a week from today. But first, they’ll participate remotely in a launch readiness review on Thursday, and then go through an in-person launch rehearsal at historic Launch Complex 39A on Saturday.

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NASA wants no crowds at historic crewed flight

NASA crew for Crew Dragon
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley participate in an integrated SpaceX test of critical crew flight hardware in March, in preparation for this month’s scheduled launch to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon capsule. (SpaceX Photo)

Everything is in readiness for the first mission to send humans into orbit from U.S. soil since NASA retired the space shuttle fleet in 2011 – from the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule that will take two astronauts to the International Space Station, to the parachutes that will bring them back down gently to an Atlantic Ocean splashdown, to the masks that NASA’s ground team will wear in Mission Control.

The fact that the launch is coming in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic has added a weird and somewhat wistful twist to the history-making event.

“That certainly is disappointing,” NASA astronaut Doug Hurley, who’ll be spacecraft commander for the Crew Dragon demonstration mission, told reporters today during a mission preview. “An aspect of this pandemic is the fact that we won’t have the luxury of our family and friends being there at Kennedy to watch the launch. But it’s obviously the right thing to do.”

NASA is asking people not to show up in person to watch the liftoff, currently scheduled for 4:32 p.m. ET (1:32 p.m. PT) May 27 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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The date’s set for SpaceX’s first crewed flight

NASA astronauts
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley run through a simulation of launch and docking in preparation for their flight to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spaceship. (SpaceX Photo)

NASA and SpaceX have set a date for the first crewed space mission to be launched into orbit from U.S. soil since the space shuttle fleet’s retirement nearly nine years ago.

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