SpaceX targets Sunday night manned launch as Elon Musk reports Covid-19 | Space


SpaceX was aiming for Sunday night launch of four astronauts on the International Space Station, although the prospects for good weather were only 50-50 and the leader of the company, Elon Musk, was sidelined by Covid-19.

Vice President Mike Pence was expected at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for the long-awaited start of regular crew rotations aboard privately owned and operated capsules. It was also only the second time in nearly a decade that astronauts were ready to launch into orbit from the United States.

“Game day!” tweeted NASA astronaut Mike Hopkins, the crew commander.

Musk revealed via Twitter that he “most likely” has a moderate case of the coronavirus, despite mixed test results. NASA policy dictates that anyone who tests positive for the virus must quarantine and remain isolated.

Musk remained optimistic. “Launch of the astronauts today!” he tweeted on Sunday morning, adding that he had had symptoms last week but felt “quite normal” at the moment.

SpaceX reps did not answer questions about Musk’s location.

The launch of three American and one Japanese astronauts comes just three months after two NASA test pilots successfully completed the first SpaceX-occupied flight of a Dragon crew capsule.

The crew led by Hopkins, an Air Force colonel, includes physicist Shannon Walker and novice navy commander and astronaut Victor Glover, who will be the first black astronaut to spend an extended period aboard the space station, from five to six months. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi will become only the third person to launch into orbit aboard three different types of spacecraft.

They named their capsule Resilience, in recognition of all the challenges of 2020, especially the global pandemic.

The 50-50 forecast focused only on local weather for the scheduled 7:27 pm takeoff, not wind or sea conditions along the east coast of the US or across the North Atlantic to Ireland. Wind and waves must be within limits in case something goes wrong during launch and the capsule has to make an emergency crash.

The rough seas prompted SpaceX to delay launch by a day so that its booster-landing platform would reach its correct position in the Atlantic. The company plans to reuse the first stage booster for the next crew launch next spring.

NASA turned to private companies to transport cargo and crews to the space station after the 2011 retirement of its space shuttles. The space agency will save millions of people by no longer needing to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules.

NASA’s other crew transportation provider, Boeing, has not yet launched the astronauts. The company is still working to overcome software problems following the ruined space debut of its Starliner capsule last December.

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