NASA and SpaceX are go for launch.
NASA announced Friday that an exhaustive “flight readiness review” of Wednesday’s scheduled launch of a SpaceX rocket with two NASA astronauts aboard had determined that the mission could proceed.
The launch is now set for Wednesday at 4:33 p.m. from launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
If all goes well, it would be the first launch of NASA astronauts to space from U.S. soil since the space shuttle was retired nearly a decade ago, and it would be the first time a private company had boosted people to orbit.
“There are no significant issues, I am happy to report,” Steve Jursczyk, NASA’s associate administrator who chaired the review, told a news conference. “In the end, it was a very, very clean review.”
The review, which began Thursday and resumed Friday morning, was one of the last hurdles to be cleared before the launch. On Friday afternoon, SpaceX successfully fired the engines on the Falcon 9 rocket for a short test to ensure they were operating correctly. On Saturday, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will suit up and go through the prelaunch procedures one last time.
A final launch readiness review will be held on Monday. The launch still could be delayed by weather or any number of last-minute mechanical glitches.
“We’re going to stay vigilant over the next few days,” said Kathy Lueders, the director of NASA’s commercial crew program.
She added that “we are trying to identify any risks that are out there, and continue to look at risk, and buy them down. But we also can’t fool ourselves, human spaceflight is really, really tough.”
“There’ll be lots more data, lots more reviews in the next few days,” said Benji Reed, SpaceX’s director of crew and mission management. “There will be constant vigilance and watching of the data and observations as we go through the mission.”
Officials from NASA and SpaceX said part of the review focused on the safety of the parachutes that would deploy and slow the Dragon spacecraft as it drops through the Earth’s atmosphere, bringing the astronauts home. SpaceX has been working feverishly to qualify a new design of the parachute systems that NASA said it is now comfortable with.
Behnken and Hurley have been in quarantine for more than a week, a normal procedure for astronauts going to space. But NASA and SpaceX have said they have been taking additional precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic. At a press briefing Friday, Hurley said he and Behnken have been tested for the coronavirus twice and “rumor has it we might be tested again before we go.”
The pair would join Chris Cassidy, the lone NASA astronaut currently on board the station, and two Russian counterparts.
“He likes solitude,” Hurley said. “But it was very obvious that he is ready for some human interaction with us.”