WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX will try to send four astronauts to the International Space Station on Sunday in NASA's first operational mission using a privately built vehicle to fly humans into orbit.
The liftoff time slipped from Saturday night due to gusty onshore winds that would have made a return landing for the Falcon 9 rocket's reusable booster stage difficult, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted.
The newly designed Crew Dragon capsule, dubbed "Resilience" by its crew, is now due to launch atop the Falcon 9 at 7:27 p.m. ET on Sunday from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying three U.S. astronauts and one from Japan.
The roughly eight-hour journey to the space station will be SpaceX's first operational mission. A crewed test flight with two crewmen aboard in August marked the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts launched from U.S. soil in nine years.
NASA officials signed off on Crew Dragon's final design earlier this week, ending a nearly 10-year development phase for SpaceX under the agency's public-private crew program.
"The history being made this time is we're launching what we call an operational flight to the International Space Station," Bridenstine said at a press conference at Kennedy Space Center on Friday.
Musk, who usually attends high-profile SpaceX missions in person, said on Thursday that after taking four coronavirus tests on the same day, two returned negative and two returned positive results.
Asked if Musk will be in the launch control room for liftoff, Bridenstine said agency policy required employees to quarantine and self-isolate after testing positive for the disease, "so we anticipate that that will be taking place."
Whether Musk came into contact with the astronauts was unclear but unlikely since the crew has been in routine quarantine for weeks prior to their flight.
NASA contracted SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to develop competing space capsules aimed at replacing its shuttle program that ended in 2011 and weaning off dependence on Russian rockets to send U.S. astronauts to space.
Boeing's first crewed test mission with its Starliner capsule is planned for late next year.
(Reporting by Joey Roulette; editing by Bill Tarrant, Diane Craft and Sonya Hepinstall)
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