SpaceX was aiming to launch four astronauts Sunday night to the International Space Station, although the odds of good weather were between 50 and 50 years, and the company’s leader, Elon Musk, was sidelined by the Covid-19 virus.
Vice President Mike Pence was expected to come to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to begin regular rotations of crew aboard privately owned and operated capsules. It was only the second time in nearly a decade that astronauts had been assigned to orbit from the United States.
“Game day!” NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, the crew commander, tweeted.
Musk revealed on Twitter that he “probably” has a mild case of the Coronavirus, despite mixed test results. It is NASA’s policy for anyone who tests positive for the virus to be quarantined and kept in isolation.
Musk remained optimistic. “Astronaut launch today!” He tweeted Sunday morning, adding that he had developed symptoms last week but that he currently feels “very normal”.
SpaceX representatives did not respond to inquiries about Musk’s whereabouts.
The launch of three American astronauts and one Japanese astronaut comes just three months after NASA test pilots successfully concluded the first manned SpaceX flight made of a Dragon capsule.
The crew, led by Hopkins, a colonel in the Air Force, includes physicist Shannon Walker, captain of the Navy and rising astronaut Victor Glover, who will be the first black astronaut to spend a long time on the space station – from five to six full months. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will become the third person to go into orbit aboard three different types of spacecraft.
They named their capsule resilience, in recognition of all the challenges in 2020, most notably the global pandemic.
The 50-50 forecast focused only on local weather for the scheduled takeoff at 7.27 PM, not wind or sea conditions on the east coast of the United States or across the North Atlantic to Ireland. Wind and waves must be within limits in case something goes wrong during launch and the capsule needs an emergency scattering procedure.
The rough seas prompted SpaceX to launch the missile for a day until the boosted landing pad reached its correct position in the Atlantic Ocean. The company plans to reuse the booster for the first stage for the upcoming crew launch next spring.
NASA turned to private companies to transport goods and crews to the space station after retiring in 2011 for its space shuttles. The space agency will save millions by not having to buy seats on Russia’s Soyuz capsules.
Boeing, NASA’s other crew transport company, has yet to launch astronauts. The company is still working to overcome software issues after the space debut last December of its Starliner capsule.