Poor weather delayed the initial launch of the SpaceX Dragon Crew mission to the International Space Station in May and the team is facing similar issues for the return home this weekend.
A 500-mile tropical storm is brewing in the Caribbean that could bring intense winds to the Atlantic Ocean – the splashdown target for the capsule.
NASA and SpaceX announced Wednesday that all is a ‘go’ with bringing astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken back on Sunday, August 2, but teams are keeping a close watch on the weather.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: ‘Tropical weather barreling toward Florida could delay this weekend´s planned return of the first SpaceX crew.’
‘If the weather isn’t good or the sea states aren’t good, we’re going to take our time bringing Bob and Doug home. Our number one highest priority is their safety.’
On Wednesday, SpaceX and NASA cleared the Dragon crew capsule to depart the International Space Station and head home after a two-month flight.
Because NASA test pilots Hurley and Behnken will aim for the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico just off Florida’s coast, the wind and waves must be relatively calm.
Managers are targeting a Sunday splashdown, right around the time rough weather is expected to hit Florida.
The weather system is currently in the eastern Caribbean and is expected to develop into a tropical storm with winds up to 40 miles per hour.
NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Steve Stich, said flight controllers will closely monitor the weather and, if necessary, keep the astronauts at the space station until conditions improve.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX company made history on May 30 when launching Hurley and Behnken to the International Space.
The mission, called ‘Launch America, marked the first launch of NASA astronauts from the US in nearly a decade and also the first time a private company sent people into orbit.
Hurley and Behnken took off from Launch Complex 39A at 3:22pm Saturday, May 30.
‘Let’s light this candle,’ commander Hurley said just before liftoff.
For Musk, the launch represents another milestone for the reusable rockets his company pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and frequent.
And it would mark the first time that commercially developed space vehicles – owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA – have carried Americans into orbit.
However, just as poor weather looms over the splashdown, it stopped the Dragon Crew from its initial launch on June 27.
SpaceX said in a tweet: ‘Standing down from launch today due to unfavorable weather in the flight path. Our next launch opportunity is Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT, or 19:22 UTC.’
It was cancelled with less than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock as bad weather meant the launch had to be delayed by a few seconds around the Kennedy Space Center.
NASA is still moving forward with Sunday’s plans to bring the space fairing heroes home, who will splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean – something that has not been done in the past 45 years.
SpaceX is already preparing to launch a second crew to the space station at the end of September.
NASA wants six weeks between the splashdown and the launch of the next Dragon crew, for capsule inspections and reviews.