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SpaceX Crew Dragon astronauts ready for second launch attempt Saturday as weather improves

SpaceX and NASA launch astronauts into space
SpaceX and NASA successfully launch two astronauts into space 03:55

Update: The SpaceX rocket launched successfully Saturday afternoon. Read the latest story here and watch the launch in the player above.

A spacecraft owned and operated by a private company — SpaceX — is primed for liftoff Saturday in what will be the first piloted launch to orbit from American soil since the shuttle stopped flying nearly nine years ago.

A Falcon 9 rocket, carrying SpaceX's first piloted Crew Dragon ferry ship, was scheduled to launch from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 3:22:45 p.m. EDT to kick off a long-awaited test flight to the International Space Station.

With less than an hour to go before launch, flight controllers said it's currently a "go," with an upgraded forecast predicting a 70% chance of good weather. Forecasters had earlier predicted a 50-50 chance of rain, cloud cover and electrical activity that would violate safety rules.

Astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken moved ahead with preparations for launch after their first attempt Wednesday was scrubbed due to stormy weather.

Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon ahead of Saturday's scheduled launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, May 30, 2020. NASA

But as Hurley and Behnken both tweeted earlier, bad weather and launch scrubs are a normal occurrence when it comes to launching rockets and while delays are frustrating, flight safety is the watchword.

"On my first flight STS-127 on Shuttle Endeavour, we scrubbed 5 times over the course of a month for technical and weather challenges," Hurley said. "All launch commit criteria is developed way ahead of any attempt. This makes the correct scrub/launch decision easier in the heat of the moment."

If the weather or some other issue prevents a launch Saturday, SpaceX and NASA will re-cycle for another try Sunday at 3 p.m. when forecasters expect slightly better weather.

"We are going to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil, and we will do it with the absolute priority being the safety of our astronauts," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told reporters Friday. "Safety is the highest priority, and that's what we're focused on."

Assuming an on-time launch Saturday, Hurley and Behnken will monitor a mostly automated rendezvous with the space station, docking at the forward port of the lab complex around 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Standing by to welcome them aboard will be Expedition 63 commander Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who were launched to the orbiting space lab on April 9 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Chris Cassidy: SpaceX launch is "a gigantic deal," "very confident" crew will arrive safely 05:54

Hurley and Behnken are expected to remain aboard the station for at least six weeks and possibly as long as four months, helping Cassidy with a full slate of research and, possibly, with one or more spacewalks to install new solar array batteries and complete installation of a European experiment platform.

NASA managers are holding off making a decision on mission duration until they get a better idea how the Crew Dragon capsule's solar cells hold up in the space environment.

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