CAPE CANAVERAL (CBS SF/AP) — The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit was called off with 16 minutes to go in the countdown because of the danger of lightning.
Officials will now try to launch the rocket on Saturday afternoon.
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"We are not going to launch today."
— NASA (@NASA) May 27, 2020
Space veterans Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were onboard, the rocket was being fueled when the ‘No Go’ decision was made because of inclement weather.
Hours earlier, the two were smiling, waving and giving the traditional thumbs-up as Vice President Mike Pence looked on. They said farewell to their families — exchanging blown kisses and pantomiming hugs for their young sons from a coronavirus-safe distance — before setting out for the pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV, another product from SpaceX’s visionary founder and San Francisco Bay Area tech guru, Elon Musk.
Thunder could be heard rumbling as the convoy of vehicles made its way toward the rocket. And a tornado warning was issued moments after the astronauts climbed into their capsule.
Musk will have to wait a few days before he gets to check off a major goal on his bucket list — helping the U.S. return to manned space travel.
“This is a dream come true for me and everyone at Spacex,” Musk said in the hour before launch. “This is not something that I ever thought would ever happen. When starting SpaceX in 2002, I really did not think this day would ever happen.”
— NASA (@NASA) May 27, 2020
SpaceX remains on the cusp of becoming the first private company to put astronauts in orbit, something achieved by just three countries — Russia, the U.S. and China.
On the eve of the launch, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said from Kennedy Space Center that both the space agency and SpaceX have been diligent about making sure everyone in the launch loop knows they’re free to halt the countdown if there’s a concern.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are expected at Kennedy for the planned 4:33 p.m. liftoff, but “our highest priority” will remain the astronauts’ safety, according to Bridenstine.
Bridenstine said he texted the two astronauts Monday and told them, “`If you want me to stop this thing for any reason, say so. I will stop it in a heartbeat if you want me to.′ They both came back and they said, ‘We’re go for launch.’ ”READ MORE: Woman Found Dead During Visit With Friends at Home in Rohnert Park
Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice president, said Monday evening that he and other company workers have imagined themselves in the astronauts’ shoes on launch day — “or their helmets.”
“That changes the equation pretty dramatically,” he said.
SpaceX has been launching cargo capsules to the space station since 2012.
“It’s a huge step, obviously, going from cargo … to launching two people that are dads as we call them and have families, kids, wives.,” Koenigsmann added.
NASA will have input throughout the countdown, but in the end, it will be SpaceX giving the final go — with NASA’s concurrence.
“SpaceX is controlling the vehicle, there’s no fluff about that,” Norm Knight, a NASA flight operations manager, said Monday.
The odds of acceptable launch weather improved Tuesday to 60%. But that didn’t factor in conditions along the Dragon’s route to orbit.
SpaceX needs relatively calm waves and wind up the U.S. and Canadian seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland, in case astronauts Hurley and Behnken need to make an emergency splashdown.
If SpaceX does not launch during Wednesday’s split-second window, the next try would be Saturday. Liftoff is set for 4:33 p.m. EDT.MORE NEWS: San Francisco Bayview District Native Unites Faith-Based Community to Help Others
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.