Editor's note: This story was updated at 6:25 p.m. EDT on May 27.
SpaceX's epic astronaut launch will draw President Donald Trump back to Florida's Space Coast this weekend.
The president arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Friday (May 27), in the leadup to the planned 4:33 p.m. EDT (2033 GMT) liftoff of SpaceX's Demo-2 test mission to the International Space Station. Vice President Mike Pence was also on hand.
Bad weather foiled Friday's launch attempt, but the president said he plans to return for the next available opportunity, which comes on Saturday (May 30) at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT).
"Thank you to @NASA and @SpaceX for their hard work and leadership. Look forward to being back with you on Saturday!" Trump tweeted on Friday afternoon.
As Trump's presence shows, Demo-2 is a big deal. The mission is not only SpaceX's first-ever crewed launch but also the first orbital human spaceflight to depart from the United States since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Ever since then, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS. NASA didn't want this dependence to last so long; in 2010, the agency began awarding contracts to help private companies develop crewed orbital vehicles, with the aim that at least one such craft would be up and running by 2015.
In 2014, SpaceX and Boeing emerged as the winners of this competition, scoring multibillion-dollar contracts to finish work on their spacecraft — capsules known as Crew Dragon and CST-100 Starliner, respectively — and fly six operational crewed missions to and from the orbiting lab.
SpaceX can begin those contracted flights after Demo-2, which will carry NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, is in the books. Boeing has more work to do; Starliner will refly an uncrewed test mission to the ISS before taking astronauts onboard. (SpaceX aced that latter milestone with its Demo-1 flight in March 2019. Starliner suffered problems during its first go this past December and ended up landing without meeting up with the orbiting lab.)
President Trump and his wife, Melania, were busy at KSC Friday before Demo-2's planned launch. The couple took several tours of KSC facilities, according to the president's public schedule, and got an up-close look at Orion, the capsule that NASA astronauts will ride toward the moon and other deep-space destinations.
Trump also said a few words shortly before the planned liftoff, during a news conference that also featured SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
"I just want to say, this is a very exciting day for our country," Trump said, according to the White House transcript of the event. "We won't say congratulations, because we have a long way to go, but it looks — it looks magnificent."
If the launch doesn't happen Saturday, the next opportunity comes on Sunday afternoon (May 31).
Visit Space.com for complete coverage of SpaceX's Crew Dragon Demo-2 flight.
- Meet the NASA astronauts launching on SpaceX's historic Crew Dragon test flight
- Here's what SpaceX's 1st spaceship to carry astronauts looks like from space (satellite photos)
- Presidential visions for space exploration: from Ike to Trump
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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