Stormy weather puts damper on SpaceX’s 1st astronaut launch set for Wednesday

A pelican takes flight from its perch near the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft at launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 25, 2020. - NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will depart for an extended stay at the International Space Station on the Demo-2 mission on May 27, 2020. While the specific duration of the mission has yet to be determined, the Crew Dragon flight will mark the first manned flight to launch from Cape Canaveral since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. (Photo by Gregg Newton / AFP) (Photo by GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Stormy weather is threatening to delay SpaceX’s first astronaut launch.

A SpaceX rocket is scheduled to blast off Wednesday afternoon from Kennedy Space Center, carrying a Dragon capsule with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. It will be the first time astronauts launch from Florida in nine years and a first for a private company.

The manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, Kathy Lueders, said everything was progressing well — at least on the ground.

“Now the only thing we need to do is figure out how to control the weather,” she said Monday evening as rain continued to drench the area. “We’re continuing to be vigilant and careful and make sure we do this right.”

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – MAY 20: Workers freshen up the paint on the NASA logo on the Vehicle Assembly Building before the arrival of NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The astronauts are scheduled to arrive today for the May 27th flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. They will be the first people since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 to be launched into space from the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Forecasters put the odds of acceptable launch weather at 40%. But that doesn’t include the conditions all the way up the U.S. and Canadian coasts and across the sea to Ireland — a complicated mix of measurements unique to the Dragon crew capsule.

The Dragon’s emergency escape system can kick in, if necessary, all the way to orbit. If that happens, the capsule will need relatively calm wind and seas in which to splash down.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – MAY 20: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley (right) pose for the media after arriving at the Kennedy Space Center on May 20, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The astronauts arrived for the May 27th scheduled inaugural flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. They will be the first people since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 to be launched into space from the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SpaceX will have at least two recovery ships deployed off Florida, and NASA will have two military cargo planes ready to take off. Additional planes will be stationed in New York and England to assist with a potential water rescue, according to Lueders.

Hans Koenigsmann, a vice president for SpaceX, said the launch control team will incorporate global weather patterns and models to determine whether it’s safe to launch.

“If the weather gods are working with us,” he said, liftoff will occur at 4:33 p.m. SpaceX has a split-second launch window.

The good news is that the tropical weather headed toward Cape Canaveral should be gone in a couple days, with conditions also improving up the Eastern Seaboard later in the week.

If SpaceX doesn’t launch Wednesday, its next attempt would be Saturday.

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