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NASA eyes weather forecast for Saturday’s historic SpaceX launch

NASA is making the final preparations for the first-ever operational crewed flight using SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.

American astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, will travel aboard the Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, November 14, as part of the highly anticipated Crew-1 mission.

Earlier this week, NASA certified SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to carry astronauts to and from space, making it the first American spacecraft to receive certification since the Space Shuttle program 40 years ago. The development means NASA will no longer have to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts into orbit.

Assuming there are no technical hitches between now and launch time on Saturday, it’s pretty much only the weather that can disrupt the launch plan.

So how is the forecast looking around the launch site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida? Well, at the time of writing, NASA says there is “a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions at the launchpad for liftoff of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission based on Falcon 9 Crew Dragon launch weather criteria.”

That criteria, which you can view here, lists in great detail all of the weather conditions that could prevent launch, such as strong winds, nearby thunderstorms, and particular types of cloud.

Currently, there is some concern over Eta, a storm that could linger after making an expected pass on Friday, according to information from the National Hurricane Center.

“Teams will monitor weather conditions both for the launch area and downrange,” NASA said, adding that at the current time the primary weather concerns for launch are cumulus clouds associated with onshore moving showers.

Adverse weather conditions caused a delay to the launch of the milestone Demo-2 mission in May 2020 that saw NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken become the first humans to fly in the Crew Dragon to the ISS in a test run that paved the way for this weekend’s crewed mission.

At the time, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said the launch had to be postponed because there was “too much electricity in the atmosphere,” adding, “There wasn’t really a lightning storm … but there was a concern that if we did launch, it could actually trigger lightning, and so we made the right decision.” NASA explains in an article on its website how a launch itself has the potential to cause lightning when weather conditions are poor.

Countdown Dress Rehearsal ➡️ Complete!

Today, @Astro_illini, @AstroVicGlover, Shannon Walker and @Astro_Soichi participated in a countdown dress rehearsal of launch day events. On Nov. 14, they'll fly to the @Space_Station for a six-month science mission: https://t.co/WqniVRWsa0 pic.twitter.com/WbslNAZ5ak

— NASA's Kennedy Space Center (@NASAKennedy) November 12, 2020

On Thursday, two days before launch day, the four Crew-1 astronauts went through all of the pre-flight procedures, including climbing into their space gear, traveling to the launch pad, entering the spacecraft, and checking the communication systems.

Digital Trends has all the information you need to watch the launch event live online.

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Trevor Mogg
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