For the first time since the space shuttle was retired in 2011, NASA is set to again launch its own astronauts into space from US soil.
Working with billionaire Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company SpaceX – which is providing one of its Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon spacecraft – NASA will be regaining a capability which it hasn’t held for almost a decade.
- You can watch the launch live at 9.33pm on Sky News
- Countdown will begin at 5.15pm
- Crew will dock with space station at 4.39pm on Thursday
The mission is not without its risks.
Wednesday’s launch marks the first time that SpaceX is taking part in a manned spaceflight, although it has 85 successful launches of unmanned Falcon 9 rockets since 2010.
During a test fire for the Crew Dragon capsule in 2018, the spacecraft exploded on the launch pad.
A subsequent joint investigation between SpaceX and NASA revealed that a titanium fire was the probable cause of the explosion.
It was a terrifying moment for the engineers involved in designing the capsule, which is meant to safely carry human passengers in space, but the Crew Dragon was successfully tested afterwards.
More from Nasa
NASA and SpaceX launch: Who are the astronauts with astronaut wives?
NASA and SpaceX launch: Eight things you need to know before lift-off
NASA delays giving green light to historic SpaceX astronaut launch
NASA’s spaceflight chief resigns just days before the agency’s first human launch in almost a decade
US Space Force plane rockets to orbit on secret mission
Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk compete to build lunar lander for moon mission
Who are the astronauts?
There is also a risk that the launch could be called off due to poor weather.
The US Air Force has a special team which monitors the weather for air and space operations.
According to the most recent assessment by the 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 60% probability that the weather will prevent the launch from taking place.
Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was thinking about flying to Florida to watch the launch, although NASA has told the public to remain at home due to COVID-19 restrictions.
At the time, the president jokingly told journalists: “I’d like to put you all on the rocket and get rid of you for a while.”
With respect Mr. Administrator, the @Commercial_Crew program started in 2010 – and you took over as the head of @NASA in 2018. I am thankful for the continued support from you and the Administration but if there is a President to thank for this milestone, it’s @BarackObamapic.twitter.com/eIUHYgGRvW
— Garrett Reisman (@astro_g_dogg) May 23, 2020
NASA’s administrator Jim Bridenstine has said: “Under President Trump’s leadership, we are once again launching American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”
However, he was rebuked by former astronaut Garrett Reisman, who tweeted: “I am thankful for the continued support from you and the Administration but if there is a President to thank for this milestone, it’s Barack Obama.”
:: Listen to Divided States on Apple podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Spreaker
- You can watch the launch, which is scheduled for 9.33pm (British Summer Time), live on Sky News, and join us online to follow updates throughout the day.