KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are able to spend time with their families and enjoy some downtime before they board SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket as soon as this weekend as Elon Musk’s company tries again to launch them to the International Space Station.
The first Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 launch was scrubbed Wednesday due to poor weather conditions. SpaceX and NASA will possibly try again as soon as Saturday at 3:22 p.m., if the weather cooperates.
The launch from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A will mark the first time U.S. astronauts will lift off from Florida’s Coast in nine years and the first time a private company will send humans into orbit. After launch, Behnken and Hurley are bound for the International Space Station where they will spend one to four months before returning to Earth.
But with two days between launch attempts, what’s an astronaut to do while they wait to go to space?
When asked what the astronauts are doing while they wait for their next trip to the launch pad, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said its possible the astronauts could be launching their own (small) rockets at the Kennedy Space Center’s Beach House.
“They started a new tradition of launching little rockets ... from the beach at the beach house before a big launch,” Bridenstine said. “I would imagine they’re probably getting some downtime. They’re probably thinking about what’s what’s coming. Maybe some changes that they’d like to have for their next, their next route to the rocket.”
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Behnken shared a photo on social media of that new tradition a day before the first SpaceX launch attempt.
Launch delays because of technical or weather reasons are a given when it comes to spaceflight.
The day before our launch on the @NASA/@SpaceX Demo Mission 2, I took the time to review pre-launch activities, hone my launch operation technique, practice one more docking with @Space_Station https://t.co/1RBMI0g1Gp, and review the path home. We are ready! #LaunchAmerica pic.twitter.com/piYtLEtoiw— Bob Behnken (@AstroBehnken) May 27, 2020
NASA Astronaut Nicole Mann said space shuttle program veteran astronauts Behnken and Hurley are well versed in the nature of launch delays. In a call with Hurley on Tuesday, Mann said she asked him how he would feel if there was a scrub.
“He mentioned that when for the first time when he flew on shuttle. He scrubbed like five or six times before they actually launched," she said. “And so he said, ‘You just have to keep in mind that you need to remain flexible, right? And that calls are going to be made and as soon as you’re made and you know everybody is out there, keeping you safe and making sure that we’re going to have a successful mission.’”
Mann, a major in the U.S. Marine Corp., is slated to fly on Boeing’s Startliner spacecraft, also part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, as soon as next year. It will be her first spaceflight.
“I thought that was a really good key, really applicable to the rest of life, like, there’s plenty of things in life that you can’t control, weather being one of them, and you just need to remain flexible, not wasting the energy on those things you can’t control, and then do what you need to do to prepare,” Mann said. “Then when it’s time for the next launch opportunity, you know you’re ready to go.”
NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, who previously launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket, said he too, experienced a delay before his first trip to the ISS. He described what that experience was like to reporters Friday and that it also means Behnken and Hurley can have more time with their families.
“You certainly get excited about the launch are prepared your mindset is such that you’re ready to fly, and certainly Bob and Doug were ready to do that,” Lindgren said. “So the scrub, the delay, just represents an opportunity for the team to learn, and then an opportunity for them to reunite with their families. I know they’re spending time with their families and enjoying this a little bit of time before they get ready to fly again.”
Hurley’s wife, former NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and their son, Jack, 10, as well as Behnken’s wife, astronaut Megan McArther, and their son, Theo, 6, have been at Kennedy Space Center leading up to the historic launch.
Like the astronauts, their families have been under quarantine, leading up to liftoff in order to spend time with them.
Between launch days, Lindgren said the astronauts are getting briefings from SpaceX and NASA about the health of the Falcon 9 rocket and the weather.
Bridenstine said there will be another weather briefing sometime Friday and at that point they will decide whether to move ahead with the Saturday launch attempt. Currently, the 45th Weather Squadron is giving a 50% chance of favorable launch conditions for the 3:22 p.m. liftoff.