NASA has postposed the launch of a SpaceX rocket taking four astronauts to the International Space Station on unspecified medical grounds.
The space agency said the delay was not COVID-19 related, nor was it a medical emergency, but did not identify the matter further or the astronaut involved.
It is the first time that NASA has delayed a launch on medical grounds since 1990, when astronaut John Creighton became ill before a Space Shuttle flight.
“The agency takes every effort to protect the crew prior to its launch through a health stabilisation plan,” explained NASA, adding the “astronauts will remain in quarantine at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida while preparing for their launch”.
“Teams will continue to monitor crew health as they evaluate potential launch opportunities at the end of the week,” the agency stated.
It is the second delay for the SpaceX mission, which had initially been scheduled to take off on Sunday before being grounded by the weather until Wednesday.
NASA says that the flight has now been rescheduled for Saturday, when the three US astronauts and another from the European Space Agency (ESA) will take off from Florida.
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The crew for the flight are NASA’s flight commander Raja Chari, 44, mission pilot Tom Marshburn, 61, and mission specialist Kayla Barron, 34 – alongside ESA’s German astronaut Matthias Maurer, 51, as mission specialist.
The astronauts will arrive at the ISS roughly 22 hours after launching and will stay on board for a six-month mission.
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It will be the first human spaceflight completed by SpaceX since its space tourism mission in September, which saw the first all-civilian crew orbit the planet.
NASA and SpaceX in May 2020 completed the first manned space launch from US soil for almost a decade, a capability it lost in 2011 when the Space Shuttle programme was retired.