It's been almost nine long years since astronauts were launched into the Earth's orbit from American soil. SpaceX and NASA were hoping to make history today by sending a pair of space-farers (Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley) to the International Space Station via the famous Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida — flying in SpaceX's new Crew Dragon spacecraft. Unfortunately, inclement weather conditions led to the mission being scrubbed.
They're going to try again on Saturday (May 30) and barring that, Sunday (May 31).
Once the mission does finally go through, it'll be the first instance of astronauts heading to space on a commercially built rocket. A success, moreover, holds incredible implications for the cost of domestic space launches and who ultimately handles them (i.e. the private sector or the government) from here on out.
The pre-launch event was available to view in different forms across multiple platforms, including a three-hour special on the Science Channel and Discovery channels. Those without a television, though, didn’t (as Douglas Adams would say) need to panic — a livestream of the pre-launch build-up was available on YouTube. Check it out below:
"What the astronauts bring to the table is the crew-vehicle interface. What would work on orbit, what might not work on orbit, what would definitely work," Hurley said in a pre-recorded segment. "To be able to just have the entire, integrated team that's gonna support us getting to and from space station — talking together, working through the challenges that simulators typically throw at you. It's just been an incredible undertaking to see where we've come in just the last five years."
"My role on the Demo-2 mission is to make sure that we get this vehicle tested and evaluated, so that we can move on to more operational missions at the International Space Station," Behnken said. "We've got a lot of objectives onboard the vehicle that we need to accomplish to really make sure that it's good to go. We'll make sure all those systems are working during the test flight, so that the future missions will have them available, even if they don't plan to utilize them."
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine (both of them wearing face masks and standing at a distance) spoke with Behnken and Hurley ahead of the launch. With no audio, it was unclear what topics they discussed, but it's probably safe to assume the words "good luck" were uttered. The two astronauts were standing in their custom-made space-suits that are a far cry from the bulky costumes of the Apollo era.
Not long after, Kelly Clarkson appeared remotely to sing the national anthem.
Space Launch Live: America Returns to Space aired on the Discovery and Science Channels. The special featured appearances by Musk; singer Katy Perry (after all, she did sing and co-write "E.T."); MythBusters' Adam Savage; former NASA engineer Mark Rober; former astronauts Mike Massimino and Karen Nyberg; active astronauts Jessica Meir and K. Megan McArthur; NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine; and astronaut Chris Cassidy from the International Space Station.
"We've done everything we can to make sure that the rocket is safe and that the spacecraft is safe," Musk said during an interview with Washington Post reporter Christian Davenport. "I really want to get the youth excited about the future of space and get us thinking about the future in exciting ways. The future's gonna be better than the past; we'll be out there [as] a space-faring civilization, having cities on Mars, having cities on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Ultimately going beyond the solar system to other star systems. I think the United States is a nation of explorers."
“Everything SpaceX does feels like a science fiction movie to me," Savage said, speaking from his nerdy workshop. He added that today is so important because we all need stories, especially during the pandemic, of humans coming together to do the seemingly impossible. Touching on Musk's hope of an eventual manned missions to Mars, he said: "I'm not sure if we're gonna get there during my lifetime, but I am sure that human beings will eventually colonize the solar system."
Katy Perry is (and you can't make this up) watching the launch on a retro television with giant rabbit ears from the late 1960s. The singer appeared on Space Launch Live, sitting on a fake moon with a sea of twinkling stars in the background. For all we know, she could've snuck onto the stage of a high school production of Peter Pan.
"We just wanted to pay homage to the '60s and all the incredible space travel that happened then, landing on the moon," Perry explained of her outdated TV set. She also touched on the streamlined SpaceX suits, saying: "I think they're absolutely elegant and beautiful and I agree they are the definition of the future now ... They look absolutely comfortable, they look like an incredible feat in engineering and I know that they're gonna keep these astronauts safe and tht is the most important part."
"It's very important that since it is the future, that it look and feel like the future and that it seems exciting," Musk explained during the Davenport interview. "You want kids to look at that spacesuit and say, 'I wanna wear that suit one day.'"
IMAX hosted its own watch party with astronaut Terry Virts and producer/director Todd Douglas Miller (Apollo 11). There were actually two events planned, one for the launch and one for the docking (set for tomorrow morning). Since the latter is no longer happening today, we'll have to wait and see if IMAX decides to reschedule it for the weekend.
While it is a bit anti-climatic to see the mission scrubbed, Musk, ironically, had some words of comfort during his chat with Davenport, which was filmed prior to the launch.
"You don't want to truncate hope," he said. "The possibility of being a space-faring civilization out there among the stars, it's very important to keep that hope alive."