NASA and SpaceX gear up for first US astronaut launch in almost a decade

May 26, 2020

For the first time since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA is set to again launch its own astronauts into space from US soil.

Working with billionaire Elon Musk's private spaceflight company SpaceX - which is providing one of its Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon spacecraft - NASA will be regaining a capability which it hasn't held for almost a decade.

  • You can watch the launch live at 9.33pm on Sky News
  • Countdown will begin at 5.15pm
  • Crew will dock with space station at 4.39pm on Thursday

The mission is not without its risks.

Wednesday's launch marks the first time that SpaceX is taking part in a manned spaceflight, although it has 85 successful launches of unmanned Falcon 9 rockets since 2010.

During a test fire for the Crew Dragon capsule in 2018, the spacecraft exploded on the launch pad.

A subsequent joint investigation between SpaceX and NASA revealed that a titanium fire was the probable cause of the explosion.

It was a terrifying moment for the engineers involved in designing the capsule, which is meant to safely carry human passengers in space, but the Crew Dragon was successfully tested afterwards.

There is also a risk that the launch could be called off due to poor weather.

The US Air Force has a special team which monitors the weather for air and space operations.

According to the most recent assessment by the 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 60% probability that the weather will prevent the launch from taking place.

Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was thinking about flying to Florida to watch the launch, although NASA has told the public to remain at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.

At the time, the president jokingly told journalists: "I'd like to put you all on the rocket and get rid of you for a while."

NASA's administrator Jim Bridenstine has said: "Under President Trump's leadership, we are once again launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil."

However, he was rebuked by former astronaut Garrett Reisman, who tweeted: "I am thankful for the continued support from you and the Administration but if there is a President to thank for this milestone, it's Barack Obama."

  • You can watch the launch, which is scheduled for 9.33pm (British Summer Time), live on Sky News, and join us online to follow updates throughout the day.
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