Bridenstine has repeatedly requested the public not descend on Kennedy Space Center to avoid throngs of spectators collecting on nearby beaches. But that appeal has largely gone unheeded this week, with reports of as many as 150,000 people gathering for the historic event.
Veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are expected to lift off at 3:22 p.m. on their 19-hour journey to the space station, where they will join fellow astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner.
The first launch attempt on Wednesday was scrubbed because of bad weather. Saturday’s forecast looks only slightly better. The Space Force’s 45th Space Wing predicted Saturday morning that there is only a 50/50 chance the launch will take place.
Such delays are common, especially when astronauts are on board, and if Saturday’s launch is postponed SpaceX will be able to try again on Sunday afternoon.
The mission is the first crewed launch under a public-private partnership with NASA called the Commercial Crew program, under which space agency plans to buy rides to space on commercially-owned vehicles that are also used to transport other nations astronauts, space entrepreneurs and even private citizens.
The launch is a “much awaited turning point in our new space age,” said Namira Salim, one of the founders of Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company that plans to fly later this year. “It is a giant leap not only for commercial spaceflight, but ushers a new era for human spaceflight which makes space affordable and accessible for commercial entities and spacefaring and emerging space nations via international partnerships.”
Under the Commercial Crew program, Boeing is also developing a new capsule. The Starliner failed to reach the space station on an test flight without crew last year. It is scheduled to redo the test this summer before flying people onboard.
Bryan Bender contributed to this report.