At Cape Canaveral, Trump’s Seek for a Heroic Narrative Is Thwarted

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — For President Trump, it was an opportunity to rewrite the story line from tragedy to triumph. At the same time as america reached the grim milestone on Wednesday of 100,000 lifeless from the coronavirus pandemic, he would assist mark the nation’s trailblazing return to human spaceflight from American soil.

However Mr. Trump’s hopes of demonstrating that America was again with the verve of a rocket’s purple glare have been doused by lightning-filled storm clouds that pressured flight controllers to scrub the long-awaited launch of the SpaceX rocket even because the president watched helplessly from the Kennedy Area Heart.

Solely minutes after heralding what was to be the primary launch of NASA astronauts into orbit from america in practically a decade, a disenchanted Mr. Trump scrapped deliberate remarks and made a hasty retreat to Air Power One to fly again to Washington and the distress of the well being disaster. Nonetheless, simply because the nation’s reopening after months of lockdown proceeds with suits and begins, Mr. Trump vowed not to surrender, promising to return this weekend when the launch can be tried once more.

The scheduled launch of the Crew Dragon capsule aboard a Falcon 9 rocket was to herald a brand new starting in America’s odyssey in house 9 years after NASA’s shuttle fleet was retired, which pressured america to depend on Russia to ferry astronauts to the Worldwide Area Station. In returning to house, the nation is now turning to personal sector transport, led by SpaceX, the corporate based by the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

For Mr. Trump, the tour to Florida was a household affair. Along with the primary girl, Melania Trump, he introduced his eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner; Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle; Eric and Lara Trump; and several other grandchildren.

Whereas Ivanka Trump and her youngsters wore masks, her brothers and the president and first girl didn’t. Mr. Kushner wore one getting on and off the aircraft however not throughout a tour of the house heart. Vice President Mike Pence and his spouse, Karen Pence, who flew in individually, wore masks when seeing off the astronauts, however not later when in Mr. Trump’s presence.

The president made no public point out of the virus loss of life toll because it handed 100,000, in line with his behavior of not specializing in those that have been misplaced to the pandemic. However earlier than taking off for Cape Canaveral, he erupted on Twitter at criticism of his administration’s preliminary response.

“The Radical Left Lamestream Media, along with their associate, the Do Nothing Democrats, are attempting to unfold a brand new narrative that President Trump was sluggish in reacting to Covid 19,” he wrote, referring to himself within the third particular person. “Mistaken, I used to be very quick, even doing the Ban on China lengthy earlier than anyone thought needed!”

The juxtaposition of the 2 milestones — the toll of the pandemic and the promise of a brand new house future — was a matter of happenstance, however they intersected in different methods, as properly. NASA was pressured to enact measures to make sure that the 2 astronauts didn’t take the virus with them to the house station. And the company advised followers who would usually prove in giant numbers to remain residence and as a substitute tune in on-line.

Mr. Musk has been a outstanding voice towards the financial restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus, defying California authorities who advised him to maintain his Tesla plant closed to guard employees towards spreading the virus. Mr. Trump two weeks in the past publicly backed Mr. Musk in his combat with the state’s Democratic leaders.

On the house heart on Wednesday, Mr. Trump hailed Mr. Musk, calling him “a buddy of mine for a very long time.” The 2 shared the joy of the second because the president requested Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, in regards to the flight standing.

“We’re a go for launch proper now,” Mr. Bridenstine advised him — optimistically, because it turned out.

Simply 16 minutes and 54 seconds earlier than the scheduled 4:33 p.m. liftoff got here phrase over loudspeakers that the launch had been scrubbed due to climate.

Since Apollo, presidents have embraced the space program as a manifestation of the American supreme, a rockets-roaring, television-friendly expression of nationwide willpower, ingenuity and the spirit of journey. However just some occupants of the Oval Workplace backed that with an actual dedication of political will and sources, leading to a stutter-step journey that has had spectacular progress at occasions at the same time as humanity has remained restricted to low-earth orbit for practically 50 years.

Mr. Trump is the most recent to vow to finish that, embracing an ambitious goal of returning to the moon as a means station for an eventual mission to Mars. Whereas demonstrating no specific affinity for the science or engineering of the enterprise, he has eagerly related himself with the picture of house heroism, inviting Apollo 11 moon-walker Buzz Aldrin to his State of the Union tackle and creating a Space Force within the military. Solely two weeks in the past, he fortunately displayed the brand new Area Power flag throughout a photograph alternative within the Oval Workplace.

Earlier than the scrub on Wednesday, Mr. Trump boasted that he had revived NASA. “They’d grass rising within the runways between the cracks,” the president mentioned of the launchpads which have sat unused for NASA crewed flights for 9 years. “Now we now have the perfect — the perfect of the perfect.”

Mr. Bridenstine mentioned the administration had backed up its dedication with giant finances requests. “We’re bringing America again because it pertains to human spaceflight,” he mentioned, including, “Right now’s a giant day for the nation.”

However impartial analysts mentioned Mr. Trump’s enthusiasm was not sufficient, recalling the previous Mercury-era adage, “no bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

“Trump is a little bit of a spaceflight fan, in fact,” mentioned Roger D. Launius, a former NASA historian. However, he added: “I’m undecided how a lot Trump needs to make his moon touchdown announcement a actuality. There’s not a lot of a mirrored image of this initiative within the budgets he has proposed.”

Nor has Congress jumped on board. “That’s not a partisan situation,” Mr. Launius mentioned. “Neither celebration appears to be lining as much as assist it.”

Attending a launch in particular person has all the time been fraught for presidents. They might fortunately share the glory of a landmark launch, however they acknowledge the dangers of being available if one thing have been to go unsuitable. In consequence, solely two sitting presidents have personally attended. President Richard M. Nixon was there when Apollo 12 took off in 1969, and President Invoice Clinton witnessed the astronaut John Glenn’s return to space aboard the shuttle in 1998.

Lyndon B. Johnson, who did extra for the house program than any president aside from maybe John F. Kennedy, attended the historic Apollo 11 launch in 1969 as a non-public citizen, solely months after leaving workplace. In any other case, presidents are likely to ship vice presidents. Spiro Agnew witnessed 4 Apollo launches.

Whereas Mr. Trump was joyful to take credit score for this week’s potential launch, it has its origins under two previous presidents. After President George W. Bush ordered an finish to the shuttle program, he initiated the event of recent rockets with the aim of returning to the moon, whereas turning to the non-public sector for cargo launches. President Barack Obama canceled Mr. Bush’s rocket program, judging it too costly, however signed contracts with SpaceX and different non-public firms to move crews to the house station.

Dava J. Newman, a former deputy NASA administrator beneath Mr. Obama who now teaches at M.I.T., mentioned the achievement of this new part in America’s house program was “actually a results of the entire nice work over the previous decade throughout a number of administrations and Congresses.”

As soon as it occurs, that’s.

Peter Baker reported from Cape Canaveral, Fla., and Michael D. Shear from Washington.

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