“Crew Dragon’s hatch is closed, securing @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug in the spacecraft ahead of liftoff,” SpaceX tweeted an hour ago.
Livestreaming of the launch has already begun, with liftoff scheduled in about 41 minutes.
If liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida occurs today at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT), it’ll be a feat that America hasn’t been able to perform since NASA retired its space shuttles, nearly nine years ago. “We are going to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared during a launch-eve briefing at the space center’s countdown clock.
But even Bridenstine acknowledged that’s not a sure bet for today. “Weather challenges remain with a 50% chance of cancellation,” he tweeted this morning. A drenching rainstorm swept over Florida’s Space Coast overnight, but the skies cleared up this morning… The launch can be scrubbed at any time, all the way down to the last second, if the weather doesn’t cooperate or if a technical glitch arises. If the gumdrop-shaped Crew Dragon doesn’t lift off today, Sunday is an option. The chances of acceptable weather are expected to improve to 60%. The weather outlook is even better for a June 2 backup opportunity…
Hurley and Behnken, who are both experienced shuttle astronauts, are scheduled to rendezvous with the space station on Sunday and move in alongside its current occupants, NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoly Ivanishin. NASA hasn’t yet decided how long the Dragon riders will spend in orbit. Their stay could be as short as six weeks, or as long as 16 weeks, depending on how the test mission proceeds. For the return trip, Hurley and Behnken will strap themselves back inside the Dragon and descend to an Atlantic splashdown.
This whole flight serves as an initial demonstration of the Crew Dragon’s capabilities with an actual crew aboard. If the mission is successful, yet another Crew Dragon will carry four different astronauts to the space station weeks after Hurley and Behnken return.
Reuters reporter Joey Roulette also spotted NASA astronaut Garrett Reisman by the side of the road as his fellow astronauts drove by. He was holding a sign that said “Take me with you.”
And GeekWire notes that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sees this event as historic. “I really think, when we look into the future, we’re going to see these models of doing business with public-private partnerships apply not just to low Earth orbit… but we’re taking this model to the moon and even on to Mars.”
UPDATE: SpaceX just tweeted that the re-usable Falcon 9 booster rocket “has landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship!”