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NASA, SpaceX delay launch of four astronauts into space to Sunday

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is shown Friday as it is prepared to launch four astronauts Sunday evening to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is shown Friday as it is prepared to launch four astronauts Sunday evening to the International Space Station from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla., Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Citing a forecast for windy conditions in the Atlantic Ocean, NASA and SpaceX have pushed back the Crew-1 launch of four astronauts to the International Space Station to Sunday evening from Saturday.

Liftoff on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket now is planned for 7:27 p.m. EST from Kennedy Space Center, with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi on board.

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Winds at sea hampered recovery operations, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said via Twitter on Friday afternoon. SpaceX intends to recover the first-stage booster for the Falcon 9 rocket on a barge, while any abort of the mission would necessitate having the capsule land at sea.



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A Space Force forecast for the Sunday attempt shows a 50% chance of poor weather conditions -- chiefly clouds and rain -- that could cause another delay. NASA officials said Wednesday would be the next potential date.

The launch delay from Saturday means the crew's flight time to the space station will tripled 27 hours from 8 1/2 hours.

"The crew will actually go to sleep in Dragon and wake up and then jump into the rendezvous profile to dock for the [space] station," said Norm Knight, NASA's deputy manager for flight operations.

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The launch represents a major step forward in the advent of human commercial spaceflight, Bridenstine and other government officials said.

"This [launch] is what happens when you add a drop or two of rocket fuel to ingenuity," Stephen Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said in a press conference at the space center Friday.

The mission, SpaceX Crew-1, represents the first time the FAA has issued a launch license for a crewed orbital launch. The government is preparing for more space activity by companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

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The agency also has streamlined FAA licensing for space launches, which allows one launch company, such as SpaceX, to obtain permission to launch more than one time from more than one location. The FAA expects to license launches at a pace of one per week in 2021.

"Once space tourism gets started, we could be doing 100 a year," Dickson said.

Space travelers scheduled for future missions are eager to see the liftoff since it will be the first operational launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, astronaut Sunita Williams said.

"This is an exciting time for all of us, watching them pave the way, so we can do low-Earth orbit with a commercial crew," said Williams, who expects to travel aboard a Boeing Starliner capsule at the end of 2021.

"What I'm most excited about is watching four of my friends launching on that rocket tomorrow," astronaut Jonny Kim told those assembled at the space center.

The mission will bring more than 520 pounds of pressurized cargo, including material for science experiments, NASA officials said.

While onboard the space station, Glover will collect biological samples from himself to provide data to the scientists on how certain dietary changes affect his body.

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The astronauts also will participate in a study of their neural function aboard the space station to better understand how spaceflight affects brain function and enabling scientists to keep astronauts healthy.

The astronauts even plan to tend radishes growing in different types of light and soil, and study how microbes that interact with rocks could help to break down minerals for possible future use on the moon or Mars.

SpaceX's Musk became a subject of the COVID-19 discussion Friday after he posted on Twitter that he had tested positive for the disease, but also has received negative tests. He said he had "symptoms of a typical cold -- nothing unusual so far."

Asked if Musk would be allowed at the space center for the launch, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said that when anyone at NASA tests positive, "it is our policy for that person to quarantine and self-isolate, so we anticipate that that will be taking place."

He said he also expects SpaceX to do contact tracing and identify anyone who may have been exposed to Musk. The astronauts scheduled for Sunday's mission have been in quarantine, however.

Bridenstine said the planned launch is considered part of a routine operation now that NASA has certified SpaceX to transport people to the space station. Be he added that the agency will be vigilant.

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"When you think about spaceflight, every flight is a test flight," Bridenstine said, noting that the Dragon capsule, Resilience, hasn't flown before.

The mission that starts Sunday also will mark the first time any space capsule carries four people and the first time a Crew Dragon capsule will spend six months in space -- the duration of that mission.

20 years aboard the International Space Station

The International Space Station is photographed by Expedition 56 crew members from a Soyuz spacecraft after undocking on October 4, 2018. NASA astronauts Andrew Feustel and Ricky Arnold and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev executed a fly-around of the orbiting laboratory to take pictures of the space station before returning home after spending 197 days in space. Photo courtesy of NASA/Roscosmos

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