The early components of Tropical Storm Bertha had battered the Florida Panhandle over the weekend and parked over coastal areas of North and South Carolina on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving the risk of isolated thunderstorms or pockets of clouds hovering around the rocket’s launch site.
With lightning seen in the area 17 minutes before the scheduled 4:33 p.m., launch time, the flight’s weather officer made the call to “scrub” the flight. The Crew Dragon’s mission, known as Demo-2, operated under an “instantaneous launch window,” or a narrow period during which the International Space Station is lined up with the rocket’s flight trajectory. Any sort of delay would cause the rocket to miss that period.
The mission’s next launch window is scheduled for Saturday at 3:22 p.m., from historic launchpad 39A, the same facility that launched the first astronauts to the moon aboard Apollo 11 in 1969.
The flight would have culminated years of work and the fulfillment of a risky bet by NASA under the Obama administration to entrust the private sector to fly astronauts. For SpaceX, it was the crescendo of an improbable odyssey that began in 2002 when founder and chief executive Elon Musk set out to start a space company.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are both former military pilots who previously had each flown two missions on the space shuttle. Once the spacecraft is launched, it is scheduled to travel to the space station, 240 miles above the Earth. That journey is expected to take about 18 hours. But their ride to space this time will be on a vastly different spacecraft: a fully autonomous, next-generation capsule outfitted with Tesla-like touch screens and temperature controls that allow astronauts to keep the cabin at between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even with a successful launch, their mission is far from complete. The spacecraft needs to catch up with the space station and match the altitude of the laboratory, which orbits the Earth at 17,500 mph, and dock with it in a risky and carefully choreographed dance.
The mission is a test flight designed to ensure the rocket and spacecraft can fly humans safely. Once complete, NASA and SpaceX will review the data and certify the spacecraft for additional missions that would regularly fly as many as four astronauts to the space station and back.
Below are the updates from Wednesday’s almost-launch.