The world is readying for the next big leap in space travel as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off Wednesday afternoon, carrying two NASA astronauts into space where they will board the International Space Station. SpaceX founder Elon Musk called it the “culmination of a dream” as he and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tensely await the scheduled liftoff, a decade in the making.
“I’m the chief engineer,” Musk told CBS News’ Mark Strassmann. “So I’d just like to say if it goes right, it’s credit to the SpaceX/NASA team. If it goes wrong, it’s my fault.”
SpaceX has had 19 successful launches of cargo to the International Space Station, but for the first time, the commercial company will carry people — NASA’s Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
The launch is unquestionably Musk’s most pivotal test for SpaceX, and he has not let the gravity of it slip his mind.
“Thousands of things that can go wrong, and only one thing that can go right,” he said.
The responsibility weighs heavily on Musk. He said after doing anything he can to “improve the quality of success” and make sure the astronauts arrive safely, he can do little but sit and wait like the rest of the world.
“I really kinda have to kind of mentally block it, because otherwise it would be emotionally impossible to deal with,” he said of the intensity in the moment.
Musk praised astronauts Behnken and Hurley for their “nerves of steel” ahead of the mission.
“I was asking them just a few hours ago. I was like, ‘You guys feel good about this? You know, is there anything you want us to do?’ And they’re cool as a cucumber,” he said.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is reusable, a milestone breakthrough that slashes the dominant cost of launching. On Wednesday, it stood on launch pad 39A, the same pad that sent Apollo 11 to the moon.
“39A is like Times Square. It’s not just opening a play on Broadway. It’s opening a play on Times Square, okay? It’s the best pad in the world,” Musk said.
He called it an “incredible honor” to share a launchpad with the same rocket that launched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon.
“This is a dream come true. In fact, it feels surreal,” Musk said. “If you asked me when starting SpaceX if this would happen, I’d be like, 1% — 0.1% chance.”
It’s a dream nearly two decades in the making — since SpaceX was founded in 2002, it revolutionized the business model of space travel with its fast innovation and costs much lower than NASA launches of the past.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said SpaceX’s kind of corporate innovation is key to NASA’s future, and hopes the launch will get Americans excited about space again.
“This is the beginning of a commercial marketplace in space,” he said.
There is no doubt a revived interest in space, between the historic SpaceX launch and NASA’s recent partnership with Tom Cruise to shoot a movie aboard the ISS.
Musk said he was “supportive” of anything NASA does “that captures the imagination of the public.”
Bridenstine, who admitted he became a Navy pilot after watching Cruise’s 1986 hit “Top Gun” in the sixth grade, set high hopes for what they can give to the next generation.
“That happened in my life and it changed my life,” he said. “Is he going to inspire the next Elon Musk? That’s the question. And if he can do that, then we win.”
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