SpaceX and NASA will see Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken step into the Crew Dragon capsule built by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s firm this afternoon to travel to the International Space Station (ISS). The Falcon 9 rocket will take off from the Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 3.22pm EDTY (8.22pm BST) today.
The team were due to lift off on Wednesday, but the mission was aborted less than 17 minutes before launch time amid concerns about the weather.
Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, said teams were proceeding with the countdown today, despite the weather forecasts meaning the chance of lift offf remains touch and go.
Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted to say Saturday’s launch activities were moving forward, but added: “Weather challenges remain with a 50 percent chance of cancellation.”
The mission, named Demo-2, remains at the mercy of the weather – with forecasters warning of rain, winds and lightning this afternoon.
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But should the launch be successful, it will see SpaceX become the first private company to send astronauts into space.
Nasa has depended on Russia’s space agency Roscosmos to transport astronauts to the space station since 2011.
Today’s joint mission has earned SpaceX a contract with NASA worth more than $3.1 billion (£2.5 billion) to fund the Crew Dragon development.
However, if the launch is delayed, the next available window will be tomorrow, Sunday, May 31.
Who are the NASA astronauts?
Doug Hurley, 53, and Bob Behnken, 49, are NASA astronauts on contract to operate under the SpaceX mission.
Mr Behnken will serve as the mission’s joint operations commander and take responsibility for the rendezvous, docking and undocking of the Dragon capsule.
Mr Hurley will be in charge of the launch, landing and recovery of the vehicle in his role as the Crew Dragon spacecraft commander.
Mr Behnken and Mr Hurley will join the three other space station residents – Nasa’s Chris Cassidy and Russia’s Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner – to become members of the Expedition 63 crew.
Mr Vagner tweeted earlier to say he was waiting for the duo at the space station. He wrote: “@Astro_Doug, @AstroBehnken — waiting for you at the International @Space_Station!
“We were flying over Cape Canaveral yesterday and I captured the legendary launching complex No. 39. Now the world’s first commercial crewed spacecraft #CrewDragon is about to launch.”
But what do we know about the two men embarking on this historic mission? Express.co.uk takes a look at their personal lives and careers.
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Douglas Gerald Hurley is an American engineer, former Marine Corps pilot, and current NASA astronaut.
He was first selected as an astronaut in 2000. having served in the US Marine Corps where he clock up more than 5.500 hours in more than 25 aircraft.
He piloted Space Shuttle missions STS-127 and STS-135, the final flight of the Space Shuttle program, and has logged more than 680 hours in space.
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His colleague Bob said of him: “Doug is ready for anything, all the time. He is always prepared.
“Knowing you’re going to fly into space on a test mission, you couldn’t ask for a better person or a better type of individual to be there with you.
“I’m just grateful that, doing something like this, I’m doing it with Doug Hurley, because he’s going to be prepared for whatever comes our way.”
He added: “One of the things that’s really helpful for us as a crew is the long relationship that Doug and I have had.
“We’re kind of at the point in our experience — whether it’s flying in the T-38 or executing in a SpaceX simulation or approaching and docking to the International Space Station — where we, in addition to finishing each other’s sentences, we can predict, you know, almost by body language, what the person’s opinion is or what they’re going to do, what their next action is going to be.”
Hurley is married to Karen Nyberg, who spent nearly six months on the International Space Station in 2013 and who retired from NASA at the end of March.
The couple has one son, Jack, who is 10.
Robert Louis Behnken is also a former military pilot, who rose to the rank of colonel in the US Air Force.
He, too, joined NASA in 2000 — making the pair two of the 17 astronauts selected by the space agency that year.
And he has also flown to space twice on space shuttle missions – flying STS-123 in March 2008 and STS-130 in February 2010.
He has logged more than 708 hours in space, and more than 37 hours during six spacewalks
Hurley recently said of Behnken: “There is no stone unturned, no way he doesn’t have every potential eventuality already thought about, five times ahead of almost anybody else.
“There’s just no question I can ask him that he doesn’t already have the best answer for.
“It’s just been such a pleasure – and it’s such an asset – to have somebody like that on a crew with you. He’s already got it all figured out.”
Behnken is married to Megan McArthur, an oceanographer who was part of the shuttle mission that made one last visit in 2009 to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.
Their son Theodore is now six-years-old.
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