SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — SpaceX’s long-anticipated second test flight of the massive Starship rocket will have to wait one more day and, it seems, many of those who made the trek to see the rocket launch are willing to stick around for the show.
Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation launch vehicle, is gearing up for its second test flight, and flocks of people from across the globe have arrived in the southernmost parts of Texas to see it take off. Now, with the delay, travelers from as far away as Canada and Poland are having to decide if it’s worth staying over the weekend.
Related: SpaceX delays second Starship test launch to Nov. 18 to replace rocket part
SpaceX is targeting a 20-minute window Saturday, Nov. 18, beginning at 8 a.m. EST (1300 GMT; 7 a.m. local Texas time), according to the company’s mission page, and you can watch it live here on Space.com.
The launch does, indeed, hold some historical significance. If successful, Starship’s second test flight will be the spacecraft’s first brush with outer space, making it the largest, most powerful rocket ever. There’s also a lot riding on this test flight. Starship already has a handful of paying customers, including NASA, which has tapped SpaceX for the Human Landing Services (HLS) contract for Artemis 3, a mission that will land astronauts on the moon for the first time since the 1970s. NASA is currently targeting the end of 2025 for the launch of Artemis 3, giving SpaceX a quick and crowded timeline to bring Starship from a test vehicle to a crew-rated lunar spacecraft.
The first launch of the fully-stacked rocket, which includes a 33-engine first-stage Superheavy booster, occurred on April 20 this year (2023). That flight was cut short about four minutes after liftoff, in part, due to a staging malfunction when Starship failed to separate from Superheavy during the flight. A fix to that problem, the addition of a water-deluge system at the launchpad, and final review, approval and licensing from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) filled the gap between Starship’s first liftoff and now.
The launch was originally scheduled for this morning (Nov. 17), but an issue with one of Superheavy’s grid-fin actuators led SpaceX operators to delay by one more day, according to a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. To access and repair the affected components, SpaceX de-stacked the vehicle Thursday afternoon.
With viewing opportunities unlike any other launch facility in the world, SpaceX’s Starbase sits along a single, publicly-accessible street that leads to the beach on Boca Chica island. And, at least while no potentially hazardous operations are occurring, anyone can just stroll up to within just a few hundred meters of the Starship and the various buildings associated with its manufacture. The day before launch is no different, except perhaps for the growing crowds of people arriving in anticipation of a launch.
Now, with an official delay looming over the start of the weekend, the mood at Starbase has remained chiefly positive, with little to no one heading home early because of the schedule change.
Amanda Schmidt and Lauren Krahwinkel met Thursday, hiking the sand dunes that lay between the rocket and the ocean, and spoke with Space.com about their views on Starship. “She’s gonna call in sick,” Schmidt said of Krahwinkel when both were asked if they planned to extend their trips to Starbase. “We’ll see,” Krahwinkel responded. Both women view SpaceX, and its mission to make humanity an interplanetary species, with historical significance.
“I started watching the YouTube videos of tests [SpaceX was] doing back in 2020, during the pandemic, and that just really sparked up my enthusiasm for space and spaceflight,” Krahwinkel said. She drove 20 hours, from east Tennessee to see Starship in person. “Now, watching this,” she said, “I just, I think that this has the potential to really reshape the future of the next few decades, what our world, what our universe is going to look like, and I can’t wait to see it happen.”
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Jana Schmidt was also hiking the dunes around Starship Thursday. She is better known around Starbase as “Space Mom.” Schmidt has been hanging around the SpaceX rocket ranch since its beginning and has seen the evolution of the facility’s development. “It was a lot different back then for sure, a lot more access,” Schmidt claims. She lives just six hours away from Boca Chica, west of Houston, and tries to visit Starbase about every quarter.
As to how she became known as the Space Mom, she says, “I think that I’m probably old enough to be a lot of these folks’ mom, so my motherly instincts always kick in. And I always have snacks, and I usually share the snacks.”
Another Houston-based SpaceX fan, Bseeshma, also decided to stay the extra day. He drove down for Starship’s first launch in April, and says, despite the delay, it’s been a good experience. “I’ve been following the Starship program for the past three years,” he told Space.com, adding, “I follow Elon Musk’s companies as well, and I’m a big space fan.”
Zack Golden runs the YouTube channel CSI Starbase. His work schedule gives him the availability to travel two weeks each month, creating a coin-toss chance of whether or not he can attend when any particular launch is announced. “Since this one happens to work out where I can actually be here, I decided I had to come since, statistically, I’m probably not going to be able to make the next one,” Golden told Space.com.
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Golden, like many, gets inspired by the possibilities Starship offers for the future. People root for SpaceX like others root for their favorite sports teams, and the let-down that comes with something like missing a launch can feel like just as much as a weight. Golden’s flight back home was originally scheduled for later Saturday, and he’s hopeful he’ll be able to catch the morning’s launch. He’s not sure if he could stay longer.
“I feel like I need to sit out here and babysit the super heavy crew to make sure they get that grid fin swapped out tonight because an extra day of delay will be really disappointing.”