CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The launch of a SpaceX rocket ship with two NASA astronauts on a history-making flight into orbit was called off with less than 17 minutes to go in the countdown Wednesday because of thunderclouds and the risk of lightning.
Liftoff was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon.
The spacecraft — designed, built and owned by SpaceX — was set to blast off in the afternoon for the International Space Station, opening a new era in commercial spaceflight. It would have also marked the first time in nearly a decade that the U.S. launched astronauts into orbit from American soil.
But thunderstorms for much of the day threatened to force a postponement, and the word finally came down that the atmosphere was so electrically charged that the spacecraft was in danger of getting hit by lightning.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency and SpaceX worked together to “make the right decision” and put safety first at a time when some were wondering whether the public attention surrounding the flight would create undue pressure to launch.
Veteran space shuttle astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were supposed to ride into orbit aboard SpaceX's sleek, white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, taking off from the same launch pad used during the Apollo moon missions a half-century ago.
Both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence had arrived to watch. Trump, who before the postponement marveled at the "magnificent" rocket on the pad, later tweeted that he will return to Florida for the next try, and the vice president did the same.
“Thank you to @NASA and @SpaceX for their hard work and leadership. Look forward to being back with you on Saturday!" Trump said.