A new spaceship, Hollywood-style spacesuits, and the start of a new era of space tourism will get a second chance this weekend.

By Jamie Carter
Updated May 27, 2020
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Stormy weather looms around the launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 26, 2020, as ready for launch is the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft. - NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will depart for an extended stay at the International Space Station on the Demo-2 mission on May 27, 2020. While the specific duration of the mission has yet to be determined, the Crew Dragon flight will mark the first manned flight to launch from Cape Canaveral since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
GREGG NEWTON/AFP via Getty Images

NASA and SpaceX had to postpone today's historic "Launch America" mission due to inclement weather in the flight path, pushing the launch to Saturday, May 30.

NASA and SpaceX plan to launch two American astronauts from American soil in an American rocket for the first time in almost a decade. In the years since the Space Shuttle Atlantis finished its final mission in July 2011, much has changed in the space industry. Is the joint NASA-SpaceX Crew Demo-2 mission the beginning of a new era in private space exploration — and even space tourism?

What is ‘Launch America?

It’s two NASA astronauts, mission commander Doug Hurley and joint operations commander Bob Behnken, heading to the International Space Station (ISS). They will launch in SpaceX hardware — a new Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 reusable rocket — from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Pad 39A is where NASA sent the famous Apollo missions to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Hurley and Behnken have been in quarantine for two weeks prior to the launch, though that’s mostly routine for astronauts anyway.

When is ‘Launch America?’ 

Exactly when "Launch America" happens depends on the weather. Plan A was to go for launch at 4:33 p.m. EDT on May 27. They will now plan for one of the backup launch dates, with windows available on Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31.

How can I watch ‘Launch America’ online?

Both NASA and SpaceX are planning to live stream the Crew Demo-2 mission from start to finish. SpaceX will begin its coverage about 45 minutes prior to launch on the SpaceX website, while NASA TV will host an entire pre-launch schedule on its website as well as on NASA TV on YouTube.

Why is ‘Launch America’ so iconic?

It’s a big event for NASA, which has never before relied on a private company to take its astronauts to space. For the same reason, it’s a huge event for SpaceX. Although much of the action leading up to the launch already played out today, you can catch it again this weekend before Saturday's launch.

Since lockdown means there will be almost no one at Kennedy Space Center to witness the historic event, some iconic imagery is being readied for what will be a mostly online-only event. The mission will begin about three hours before launch with Hurley and Behnken — each sporting brand new sci-fi-styled SpaceX spacesuits — walking out of the crew quarters at Kennedy Space Center and climbing into a Tesla Model X (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is also CEO of Tesla) for the short journey to Pad 39A. That’s a big change from the converted Airstream RV "astrocar" that was used for Apollo and Space Shuttle missions.

The astronauts will then catch an elevator to the top of the launch tower, walk down a futuristic glass walkway, and enter SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, which is adorned with control panels, comfy seats, and even a toilet.

What will happen after the launch? 

After the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off, it will take about 12 minutes for the Crew Dragon capsule to reach orbit. Before that, the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket will return to Earth, touching down on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. Although it’s become a routine for SpaceX launches, a reusable rocket has never been seen before during a crewed launch.

The journey to the ISS will take the astronauts about 19 hours, with NASA planning to stream live video of the capsule’s docking as well as the crew’s welcoming ceremony.

Hurley and Behnken are expected to stay at the ISS until September, when they will be replaced by three NASA astronauts and one Japanese astronaut on another joint NASA-SpaceX mission.

Why could this be the beginning of space tourism? 

SpaceX has at least two Crew Dragon capsules, with more in production, while Boeing also has a capsule that NASA will use to take astronauts to the ISS later this year. Axiom has permission to attach private modules to the ISS and eventually build its own private space station. Meanwhile, both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin could well launch private citizens to space for the first time later this year.

2020 might be remembered for being a year of pandemic, but in future years, it could also cited as the beginning of a whole new era of private space travel.