Though Wednesday’s launch was scrubbed due to bad weather, SpaceX plans on being the first private company in history to send astronauts into space.
After the shuttle program ended back in 2011, NASA passed the space-faring baton over to SpaceX and Boeing, who have since been competing for who gets to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX has already been leading the way in contracts with NASA—primarily because of the massive success they’ve had with their reusable rockets—but sending a crew to the station would be the crowning achievement. Despite a 5-year launch delay, it looks like SpaceX has effectively beaten Boeing to the finish line.
Boeing & SpaceX
SpaceX, owned by Elon Musk, has been awarded over $3 billion in contracts to build the crew spacecraft since 2011. Though a billionaire founded SpaceX, it was technically a startup company when it was handed the opportunity to work with NASA. Because of this, many believed the company didn't stand a chance against the megacorporation aviation company, Boeing. However, after SpaceX successfully launched and then landed its cheaper Falcon 9 rocket on a small launch pad in the Atlantic, most of the news ignored Boeing's role in the competition.
Despite SpaceX largely hogging the attention, Boeing still has a massive contract with NASA. NASA has given around $8 billion to both companies and expects them to complete six crewed trips from now to 2024. After Boeing’s flagship crew capsule Starliner suffered serious problems during a test flight, it's uncertain whether Boeing will make that goal or not. The commercial applications (and the profit to be made) are astronomical, so it's unlikely Boeing will simply give up, but SpaceX is already a few steps ahead.
SpaceX's first crew launch was scheduled for 4:33 pm EDT on Wednesday but was postponed due to poor weather conditions. The postponement was not too surprising—the forecast in the Cape Canaveral area showed a 60% chance of questionable weather. The next launch mission, named Demo-2 and which will again be crewed by Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, is scheduled for Saturday, May 30th. Once launched, the trip will take around 19 hours before they finally dock at the ISS. The SpaceX website will host a live stream of the event, starting about four hours before liftoff.
Based on the immense success SpaceX has had with its revolutionary space programs so far, and if the weather is reasonable, it’d be very surprising if anything went wrong on Saturday’s launch. SpaceX has proven itself capable of pushing the boundaries of spaceflight. Musk has high hopes for the mission and the implications for future human spaceflight missions. The SpaceX website states that these crew flight missions with NASA are a “turning point for America’s future in space exploration that lays the groundwork for future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”