President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and as many as 200,000 spectators viewing from scattered Space Coast sites in Florida were hoping to witness history this afternoon when American astronauts aboard an American rocket blast off from Cape Canaveral, opening a new era in space development and exploration.
NASA pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will launch from Kennedy Space Center Pad 39A, the same one Apollo astronauts used to get to the moon, marking the first time U.S. astronauts will launch into orbit from American soil since the end of the space shuttle era in 2011.
It also will mark the first time NASA astronauts will ride into space and journey to the International Space Station aboard a privately built commercial space ship – Elon Musk’s SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule mounted on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, largely designed and built Florida, another confirmation the Space Coast has regained its historical status as a leader in the burgeoning trillion-dollar aerospace industry.
All is set to go for the 4:33 p.m. EDT launch except for one thing NASA or SpaceX can't control: the weather.
SpaceX Vice President Hans Koenigsmann said the launch control team will incorporate global weather patterns and models into its split-second launch window to determine “if the weather gods are working with us.” unfortunately .... they were not! The launch was scrubbed for weather 17 minutes before liftoff.
Forecasters said there is a 40 percent chance for “acceptable” launch conditions in Florida, but the launch trajectory extends along the U.S. and Canadian coast across the Atlantic to Ireland.
The decision to scratch the mission was made, literally, minutes before blast-off. The tropical weather systems buffeting the Sunshine State are expected to dissipate through the week. Because SpaceX diddn't launch today, it has scheduled another launch Saturday.
SpaceX will have two recovery ships deployed off the Space Coast. NASA will have two cargo planes ready to take off with additional planes in New York and England ready to assist if the capsule must splash down in the Atlantic.
NASA has discouraged spectators because of the COVID-19 emergency and is limiting the number of visitors inside the Kennedy Space Center, which has been closed to the public.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine asked spectators to watch the launch online or on TV from home. The space agency also is offering a “virtual launch experience.”
“The challenge that we’re up against right now is we want to keep everybody safe,” Bridenstine said last week. “And so we’re asking people not to travel to the Kennedy Space Center, and I will tell you that makes me sad to even say it. Boy, I wish we could make this into something really spectacular.”
High-profile space shuttle launches often drew as many as a half-million visitors to the Space Coast. Brevard County officials say over 100,000 spectators showed up.
With the COVID-19 emergency dramatically reducing travel to Florida and local tourism-related businesses suffering, Brevard County officials are laying out the welcome mat.
“By all means, come,” Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey told The Associated Press. “I’m not going to tell Americans they can’t watch a great piece of history.”
Ivey is asking visitors to practice social distancing, noting about 85 reserve deputies will be on hand to monitor crowds and ask people to comply with social distancing.
Space Coast Office of Tourism Executive Director Peter Cranis told AP the area’s tourism business is down by 40 percent for the year, and that could cost the area $1 billion, he said.
“A launch like this after a big long weekend could really give us a shot in the arm,” Cranis said.