e came this close to ushering in a new era of American spaceflight, one that combines the experience and capabilities of both private and public aerospace programs. But the weather simply wouldn’t cooperate.
At roughly T-16 minutes, NASA scrubbed Wednesday’s SpaceX Falcon 9 launch that would have carried veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on a 19-hour trip to the International Space Station.
NASA has already identified May 30th and 31st as potential backup days to retry for lift-off. Stay tuned on Saturday for the second attempt which is happening at 3:22pm ET.
This would have been the first US-based launch since the shuttering of the space shuttle program, which dealt a savage blow to America’s space faring capabilities. Since the government decided against building a replacement crewed vehicle, NASA has had to rely on Russia’s Roscosmos to get its astronauts out to the International Space Station for nearly a decade — at a price of up to $86 million per launch.
In recent years, a number of private aerospace firms have designed and tested crew capsules of their own including Blue Origin’s New Shepard, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.
While the New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo are built for suborbital flights, NASA awarded Boeing and SpaceX multi-billion dollar contracts in 2014, as part of its newly-formed Commercial Crew Program, to shuttle astronauts to the ISS and back. SpaceX is expected to get $2.6 billion for six trips, while Boeing received $4.2 billion for a similar number of flights.
However, only SpaceX has so far managed to achieve flight certification from NASA. During an uncrewed test flight in December of 2019, Boeing’s spacecraft suffered a timing system malfunction which prevented it from reaching a high enough orbit to reach the ISS and returned to Earth after just two days, rather than the expected eight.
The Crew Dragon capsule is just the fifth crew transport vehicle ever deemed worthy by NASA, following the Gemini, Apollo, Mercury, and Space Shuttle. The Dragon capsule measures 13 feet in diameter and has seating for seven.
It’s even got a toilet that Behnken and Hurley can use on their 19-hour journey to the ISS, though both SpaceX and NASA have remained mum on the details of where all those knobs and hoses go.