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First SpaceX launch to ISS scrubbed at the last second, literally

Michael Santo's picture

It was close, very, very close, but the SpaceX mission to the International Space Station early on Saturday morning failed to launch.

Scheduled to take off shortly before 5:00 a.m. EDT, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster ignited at 3 seconds prior to the actual launch. The mission was shut down two seconds later, literally at the last second, as "slightly high combustion chamber pressure on engine No. 5," as SpaceX founded Elon Musk Tweeted, caused the ship's onboard computers to abort the flight, one second before lift-off.

The SpaceX launch was a test flight. If it had been successful, it would have meant that the company would have entered into a contract with NASA that would pay it $1.6 billion for a dozen cargo flights to the ISS.

Musk added the following, in his Tweet: "Will adjust limits for countdown in a few days."

In an official statement, a SpaceX spokesperson reiterated Musk's comments, but added that both NASA and SpaceX continue to examine data to be sure they have determined the exact cause of the failure. Also, the spokesperson noted that "due to the instantaneous launch window, we are not able to recycle and re-attempt the launch today."

The earliest date that SpaceX could launch would be Tuesday, May 22, at 3:44 a.m. EDT. The mission is to propel a Dragon capsule, scheduled to carry 1,150 pounds of cargo to the ISS, and return with a payload of 1,455-pounds.

The mission had originally been scheduled for May 7, so this is the second delay in the launch. The Dragon capsules computer systems had a longer-than-expected software validation process that delayed the original launch date. In addition, other technical issues have created months of delays to what will be the first commercial flight to the ISS. All, however, have been resolved.

Even before the Saturday scrub, there was a cautionary note. On Friday, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell reminded reporters SpaceX has never launched a Falcon 9 booster on the first try. In fact, SpaceX has only launched its current booster once prior, in December of 2010. That mission, also a test flight, carried a Dragon capsule into orbit and back again as part of NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

While a test flight, that launch made SpaceX the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.

Watch video of the failed Saturday, May 19, 2012 launch, below.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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