KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – The clouds and rain around Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A are still present Tuesday, one day before Elon Musk’s company is set to launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, but launch conditions have improved slightly, according to Space Force weather officials.
In a launch briefing with NASA and SpaceX Monday, Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer with the 45th Weather Squadron, said the weather would improve by launch day. The latest forecast from the 45th Weather Squadron did improve by Tuesday to 60%, and if the launch delays to Saturday chances go up to 70%, according to the forecast.
The primary concerns are flying a rocket through rain and thick cloud cover, however, that’s just the weather for launch. SpaceX will also be closely monitoring recovery weather at sea in case of a launch abort, which would send the Crew Dragon away from the rocket and land it in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The weather is about 60% favorable for launch tomorrow, which is good news compared to where we were yesterday we were at 40% so the trend is in the right direction,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said Tuesday.
There are certain launch and recovery criteria NASA and SpaceX must meet in order to get the rocket along with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley off the ground in the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Falcon 9, which had been vertical on the launchpad for a dress rehearsal and static fire test, went horizontal Tuesday as crews preformed final pre-flight checks, according to NASA.
The launch pad is the same one Saturn V and Apollo 11 launched to the moon from more than 50 years ago.
“We went to the moon from Pad 39A, and 82 of our 135 shuttle missions launched from that pad including three of my flights,” Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana said. “Now, rather than rusting away in the salt air, through our partnership with SpaceX that pad is being used once again, and it’s now for our commercial crew program as well as other missions for SpaceX.”
Ahead of the launch, NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Kjell Lindgren, along with other members of the astronaut office, are at KSC supporting the mission. During a call with reporters Tuesday both astronauts expressed excitement and admiration for their fellow astronauts about to embark on the test mission known as Demo-2.
“We are so proud and happy for Doug and Bob, you know, it feels kind of like one of your close family members, having a great lifetime achievement and really that’s what it is,” said Mann, who will fly on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft as soon as this year.
“We all feel so proud for everything that they’ve accomplished with the NASA and SpaceX teams to get ready for this launch,” Mann said. “It’s so important because this is not just about one launch. Right? I mean this is this is launch America, it’s not launch NASA, it is launch America.”
Come launch day, the decision about a delay will be made before the spacecraft’s abort system is armed, SpaceX vice president of build and flight reliability Hans Koenigsmann said in a call with reporters Monday.
“Usually when we have a satellite to launch we go all the way down to the wire in this case we don’t want to do that,” Koenigsmann said.
SpaceX will look at the launch and recovery conditions 6 hours and 4 hours ahead of launch and then again at 45 minutes when they are about to arm the escape system, at that point launch officials will need to make the call if they move forward or try again another day.
Lindgren said if the decision is made to scrub, SpaceX staff will get the crew out of the spacecraft.
“They’ll have the crew access arm will come back to the vehicle. And essentially we’re going to make sure that that the vehicle is safe to approach,” Lindgren said. “We’ll have the folks from SpaceX will come in, unbuckle Bob and Doug and then just escort them out, down to the ground and they’ll prepare to give the next launch opportunity a shot. But it’s all of course done in a manner that makes sure that everybody that’s involved is is safe.”
There are two backup launch windows on both Saturday and Sunday after 3 p.m.
If the launch goes Wednesday, it will take 19 hours for Hurley and Behnken to reach the International Space Station. Along the way, they will test out Crew Dragon’s spaceflight capabilities, eat, sleep and use the bathroom on the new spaceship.