Stormy weather looms around the launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on May 26 2020, as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft readies to launch. Picture: AFP/GREGG NEWTON
Stormy weather looms around the launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on May 26 2020, as the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft readies to launch. Picture: AFP/GREGG NEWTON

Cape Canaveral — Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to launch two American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, ending the US space agency’s nine-year hiatus in human space flight.

California-based SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule carrying astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken and its Falcon 9 rocket is due to lift off at 8.33pm GMT on Wednesday from the same launch pad used by Nasa’s last space shuttle mission in 2011.

US President Donald Trump and vice-president Mike Pence will view the launch in person, a White House spokesperson said.

For Musk, SpaceX and Nasa, a safe flight would mark a milestone in the quest to produce reusable spacecraft that can make space travel more affordable. Musk is the founder and CEO of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla.

“Bob and I have been working on this programme for five years, day in and day out,” Hurley said as he and Behnken arrived at the Kennedy Space Center from Houston last week. “It’s been a marathon in many ways, and that’s what you’d expect to develop a human-rated space vehicle that can go to and from the ISS.”

Nasa, hoping to stimulate a commercial space marketplace, awarded $3.1bn to SpaceX and $4.5bn to Boeing to develop dueling space capsules, experimenting with a contract model that allows the space agency to buy astronaut seats from the two companies.

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule is not expected to launch its first crew until 2021.

Nasa Administrator Jim Bridenstine declared the mission a “go” last week after the space agency and SpaceX officials convened for final engineering checks.

SpaceX successfully tested Crew Dragon without astronauts last year in its first orbital mission to the ISS. That vehicle was destroyed the following month during a ground test when one of the valves for its abort system burst, causing an explosion that triggered a nine-month engineering investigation that ended in January.

Reuters

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