SpaceX Looks To Make History, Returning Manned Spaceflight To U.S.

SpaceX Falcon-9 Rocket And Crew Dragon Capsule Launches From Cape Canaveral Sending Astronauts To The International Space Station

For the first time in nearly a decade, America will launch two astronauts bound for the International Space Station from American soil.

The launch by Hawthorne-based SpaceX is scheduled to take place at 1:33 p.m. California time Wednesday afternoon. NASA officials said Wednesday morning that the weather forecast offered a 60% favorable chance for launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

If weather forces SpaceX to scrub today's launch, backup launch windows are scheduled for 12:22 p.m. California time on Saturday and noon Sunday.

“This is a unique moment where all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again, and that is launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,'' NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft will launch from the Kennedy Space Center's historic Launch Complex 39A to carry two veteran astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, on what is technically considered a "demonstration flight" meant to show off the capabilities of the SpaceX ship which will be launched using the company's Falcon 9 rockets.

The company is also aiming to recover the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket booster by landing it on a floating barge dubbed "Of Course I Still Love You" which is currently floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

The return to America-based spaceflight is a first since the space shuttle program was retired in 2011. NASA used Russian Soyuz rockets launched from Kazakhstan to get supplies and astronauts to the International Space Station since then.

Last year, SpaceX conducted an unmanned test flight of the Crew Dragon capsule in March 2019. The test flight contained cargo for the ISS as well as a mannequin named "Ripley" after the titular protagonist in the "Alien" film franchise.

The company considers today's launch a stepping stone for more ambition plans such as returning astronauts to the Moon and eventually flying a manned mission to Mars.

The capsule will bring Hurley and Behnken to the ISS after orbiting the earth and the astronauts test the flight capabilities of the spacecraft. The Crew Dragon capsule was designed to fly itself and autonomously dock with the ISS.

The ship is scheduled to arrive at the space station at about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, California time.

No date has been scheduled to Hurley and Behnken's return to Earth.

NASA Deputy Administrator James Morhard said the return of American flight capabilities to the space station is critical to future research.

“Why are we here? We're here to expand the human condition for all mankind,'' he said. “... Right now we've got one astronaut on the space station, and when we get the full complement back, we're going to increase our research up there by 300% and that's about helping others. That's why we exist.''

Today's launch will be a unifying national event at a time of heightened political divisions, Bridenstine said.

“This space program that we have in this country unites people, period,'' he said. “It always has. We look at the most divisive times in American history. We think about the Vietnam War, the 1960s, not just the war, but the protests. We think about the civil rights abuses and the civil rights protests. The very divisive, challenging times. And here we are all these years later in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and we have this moment in time where we can unite people again.''

Photo: Getty Images

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