Tuesday , June 21 2022

Weather concerns complicate plans for SpaceX's next attempt to launch NASA astronauts

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine asks a question during a briefing on the Kennedy Space Center countdown clock that NASA astronaut Nicole Mann is behind. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

NASA and SpaceX are closely monitoring the weather in Florida and beyond as they prepare for a second attempt to launch two NASA astronauts in the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday. Or maybe Sunday.

During a briefing held today at the Kennedy Space Center poster-sized countdown clock, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said mission managers were considering whether to miss the first opportunity on Saturday and instead strive for Sunday.

The Forecast for Sunday is slightly better, with a 60% chance of acceptable weather as opposed to the 50% on Saturday. Rain and thick clouds are the main concerns.

Technically speaking, SpaceX could try on the first day and try again on the second day if the weather forces peeling. But Bridenstine said managers want to make sure the ground crew and astronauts are all rested and ready.

"We have to start taking human factors into account," said Bridenstine. "Ultimately, human factors also increase risk because they wear down everyone, including our astronauts, even though they never complain."

Bridenstine said a decision about when the next countdown would take place this afternoon after the next big weather briefing. Several additional backup start dates are being considered, including June 2, 3, 7 and 8.

Update for 5:50 p.m. PT May 29: NASA's decision took longer than expected, but the decision was to continue trying to launch. "Weather challenges remain with a 50% chance of cancellation." Bridenstine tweeted.

NASA and SpaceX are particularly careful with this Falcon 9 rocket launch to send NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station for a one-week stay. The main purpose of the mission is to demonstrate how the spacecraft's systems work for the first time with the crew on board.

The mission would be the first orbital launch of a US-made spacecraft with US astronauts aboard US territories since NASA's space shuttle departure in 2011. This makes SpaceX the first company to bring people aboard a privately developed spacecraft Orbit sends.

For the past nine years, the only way for NASA to send astronauts to the space station was a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that cost up to $ 80 million per seat. If this demonstration flight is successful, this payment to the Russians is no longer necessary. For all of these reasons, a lot is done on this SpaceX mission.

The first attempt to start on Wednesday was canceled due to concerns about lightning potential. "We had too much electricity in the atmosphere," said Bridenstine. “The challenge there is not that we were in a thunderstorm or something. The challenge is that a start can actually trigger a flash. In fact, the rocket itself could become a bolt of lightning. "

This basically happened when the Saturn V rocket from Apollo 12 took off in 1969. The rocket and the crew survived the lightning strike, but the flash and its effects have scared NASA.

(embed) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nd6Ko66lPQw (/ embed)

Bridenstine emphasized that the safety of Hurley and Behnken was a top priority on this test mission. He noted that before Wednesday's scrub, he was often asked if NASA would feel undue pressure to launch, considering that President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other VIPs were in Florida for the event. (Trump has announced that he will be returning to Florida for this weekend's attempt.)

"We all agreed that there would be no pressure," said Bridenstine. "We will start when we are ready. And I tell you, the President and Vice President were proud of the NASA team and the SpaceX team for making the right call for the right reasons. "

To underline this, Jim Morhard, NASA's deputy administrator, cited a quote from Deke Slayton, one of the Mercury astronauts and director of flight crew operations for the Apollo program. "A good peeling is better every day than a bad start," Morhard Slayton quoted.

Further highlights of today's briefing:

  • Thousands of spectators streamed to vantage points on the roadside around the Kennedy Space Center for Wednesday's attempt to launch, and the crowd could be even bigger for a weekend launch. This has raised concerns about compliance with the guidelines for social distancing and wearing masks. Bridenstine urged the public to "follow the guidelines" and found that COVID-19's security measures on NASA's property were strictly followed. Many of the streets near the launch site is temporarily closed.
  • Bridenstine said Hurley and Behnken's stay on the space station had not yet been determined, and provisional August 30 for the next SpaceX Crew Dragon flight had not yet been determined. "Nothing is blocked before a test flight," he said.
  • Boeing is developing another type of spacecraft called the Starliner to fly NASA astronauts to the space station. Due to interference that occurred during a test flight last December, astronauts will only be flying Starliner next year. Bridenstine said he expects another flight test to be carried out without screws by the end of this year.
  • In response to a question, Bridenstine gave a good word for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "He brought visions and inspirations that we haven't had in 10 years – since the space shuttles left, nine years ago," said Bridenstine. "And I will tell you that he is brilliant. He is capable. I have been the NASA administrator for over two years now, and there have been times when the priorities that we focused on may create tensions. But when I speak to him, when I meet with him, he gives me an obligation and he fulfills that obligation. It has happened every time. "

About Darrel Hodges

Darrel Hodges works as a computer technician at a technology company.

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