CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit has been called off with 16 minutes to go in the countdown because of the danger of lightning.
Liftoff is rescheduled for Saturday at 3:22 p.m.
The spacecraft was set to blast off Wednesday afternoon for the International Space Station, ushering in a new era in commercial spaceflight and putting NASA back in the business of launching astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.
Ever since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian rockets to carry astronauts to and from the space station.
Space veterans Doug Hurley, 53, and Bob Behnken, 49, had been scheduled to ride into orbit aboard the brand-new Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off for the International Space Station at 4:33 p.m. from the same launch pad used during the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago.
Smiling, waving and giving the traditional thumbs-up, the two men set out for the pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV, another product from SpaceX’s visionary founder, Elon Musk.
Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had arrived to watch the flight that would mark the first time a private company sent humans into orbit.
The preparations took place in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed an estimated 100,000 Americans.
“We're launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil. We haven't done this really since 2011, so this is a unique moment in time,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
With this launch, he said, “everybody can look up and say, ’Look, the future is so much brighter than the present.′ And I really hope that this is an inspiration to the world.”
NASA pushed ahead with the launch despite the viral outbreak but kept the guest list at Kennedy extremely limited and asked spectators to stay at home. Still, beaches and parks along Florida's Space Coast are open again, and hours before the launch, cars and RVs already were lining the causeway in Cape Canaveral.
The space agency also estimated 1.7 million people were watching the launch preparations online during the afternoon.
Watch a replay of Wednesday’s launch preparations below:
SpaceX prepares to launch NASA astronauts into orbit
WATCH LIVE: SpaceX prepares to launch NASA astronauts into orbit https://bit.ly/2ZIJPNWPosted by WPLG Local 10 on Wednesday, May 27, 2020