At 4:17 p.m. eastern time, NASA called off Wednesday’s scheduled historic rocket launch from Cape Canaveral. The launch would have taken NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken to the International Space Station aboard one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, the first manned launch on American soil since the closure of NASA’s shuttle program a decade ago, and the first private company to put astronauts in orbit in history.
Wednesday’s launch was meant to be the moment of triumph for Elon Musk’s maverick aerospace company, but the unpredictable Florida weather did not cooperate, leading to a sudden scrubbing of the flight.
The scene was electric in the small city of Titusville, Florida for hours before the launch. Crowds of locals and tourists grew along the shores of the Indian River, risking rain, lightning, and pandemic warnings to catch a glimpse of the historic flight. There was an excited buzz, despite early weather warnings, as the overcast weather shrouding Cape Canaveral all afternoon appeared to break.
It was only 12 minutes before the scheduled launch when a flush of clouds crossed the cape, followed by three sudden claps of thunder rolling over the packed bridge. Knowing what was to come, phones were simultaneously pulled out of pockets, waiting for the words that came just two minutes later from the NASA spokesman. The lightning was directly over the historic platform, and the launch was off.
Such caution is to be expected, particularly since the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster. There, possible problems were identified, but ignored due to a commitment to the existing timeline—a phenomenon called “Go Fever.” With an event this critical, where SpaceX has an opportunity to prove that space exploration can be affordable and efficient, it comes as no surprise that unnecessary risks are being avoided, especially considering the painful lessons of the past.
Despite the last-minute call, optimism remained among those who came out. “It’s probably good,” Zach Day, a resident of Hazlehurst, Mississippi who traveled 12 hours to see the launch told The Federalist. “We’d rather it be on a clear day if that’s possible.”
Similar attitudes were shared among spectators. While disappointed, there was still excitement about the restarting of NASA launches on American soil, and the recent level of public-private cooperation. For some, seeing the crowds return to Titusville’s shores after so long was a good sign in and of itself.
“Our area needs this back,” said Chuck Gross, one of the many locals who had opened up his own land for the crowds of space enthusiasts. “That’s what Titusville was built on. Thank God Elon’s bringing this back.” The members of historic Expedition 63 plan to try again this Saturday, May 30 at 3:22 p.m. eastern time.