Wednesday’s scheduled SpaceX launch from Kennedy Space Center is important and noteworthy for so many reasons. Even a worldwide pandemic that discourages gatherings of people hasn’t done what only the weather can do — scrub the launch.
If the mission does go up at 4:33 p.m., it will be the first time since July 8, 2011 that astronauts will be sent into space from American soil. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — Hurley was on that 2011 Space Shuttle Atlantic flight — will head to the International Space Station atop the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The trip could last between one and four months, the edge of the lifespan of its heat tiles, but NASA officials said in a recent mission briefing it won’t be decided until they are already in orbit.
And it will be the first time a private company, rather than NASA, has built and will operate a mission. NASA is on hand as technical know-how and a “customer” of SpaceX, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday others could follow based on the success of this mission, creating a new space industry if all goes well.
“This should lead to an expanding economy in low-Earth orbit,” he said. “The goal is for SpaceX to have launches without NASA.”
SpaceX is serving as the mission management, and while NASA’s control specialists could intervene, Bridenstine said, SpaceX’s launch directors will be making the key determinations whether to go at the T-minus 6 hour, 4 hour and 45 minute marks.
Bridenstine also said Behnken and Hurley could be inspiring the next generation of astronauts.
“Sending astronauts back into space could inspire a future of space explorers as they look up from their porch, or a parking lot,” he said.
About that — where you watch from. NASA isn’t encouraging folks from inland to head to the coast by the thousands. Earlier in the month, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey advised people coming for the launch to practice “family social distancing,”. Some viewing spots from years past have been eliminated — Brevard officials have already put fencing up in the median on State Road 528 (the Beachline) east of the Banana River causeway.
Weather conditions for launch will be stricter than for prior Space Shuttle flights. The launch will be delayed or scrubbed and moved to the weekend (when conditions are said to be more favorable) if: winds at the top of Launchpad 39A reach 30 mph; wind shear is present at the pad, or thunderstorms are present within 10 miles of the pad.
The Air Force is also enforcing a ‘No Fly Zone’ for most aircraft in a 30-mile radius of the launch pad.
Godspeed, Crew Dragon.