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SpaceX Prepares for First Commercial Space Launch Despite Worsening Weather; SpaceX Spacecraft May Be Safest in History; The U.S. Approaches 100,000 COVID-19 Deaths. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 27, 2020 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RENEE DIRESTA, RESEARCHES DIGITAL MISINFORMATION: So you -- there is a --

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: Exactly.

DIRESTA: -- lot of narrow tailoring, even within 24 hours, that we've seen. So it is possible. And again, the companies have decided that health misinformation, voting misinformation are two things that have very significant consequences on people's lives, and those are topics that should be subject to fact-check.

One of the other things I want to add is that if the platforms are not going to take things down or down-rank them, fact-checking is really the way that allows the preservation of free expression, to the greatest extent possible. It says this is what this person said, and here is the counter to that speech. It's not taking down the speech, it's not stifling the speech, it's simply presenting an alternate point of view.

KEILAR: Renee DiResta, thank you so much. We really appreciate your perspective on this.

DIRESTA: Thanks so much for having me.

KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. This is CNN's special live coverage of a world facing an uncertain future.

From a deadly pandemic spanning the globe --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (?): Just about a month ago, a barn was being converted to a morgue.

Long Island, making the step to phase one.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Here in Brazil, the numbers continue to get worse. For two days now, Brazil has had the worst number of deaths.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: -- to heartache and demands for justice in Minneapolis -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE FLOYD, MAN KILLED BY POLICE: I can't breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't breathe, I can't breathe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: -- to tear gas and crisis in Hong Kong, to a historic launch --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: -- that may forever change the way humans go to space, CNN is everywhere.

First, I want to get to some live pictures that you're looking at there, coming to us from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where, just a short time from now, the first manned rocket launch on U.S. soil in nine years is expected to happen.

Let's go to Rachel Crane, there on the scene. Just walk us through what's happening now. And I have to tell you, Rachel, it's a very difference scene. I mean -- oh, no, our signal just cut out, but we saw what the astronauts here were doing.

Just walk us through what they're -- what they have ahead of them, here for the next couple hours as they get ready for this.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the astronauts, they're actually running ahead of schedule. They're already suited up, they're already in the capsule, in their seats. They're strapped in right now.

The weather here, though, at Kennedy Space Center -- as you could see my hair there, actually a tent right next to us just blew over -- is not really cooperating at the moment. Obviously, weather in Florida can be quite temperamental, so at the moment we're about a 50-50 percent chance that this rocket will have lift-off.

But all of us here at Kennedy Space Center -- all the space nerds and all the people tuning into this around the world -- are crossing their fingers that this historic launch will happen today -- Brianna.

KEILAR: It's just so wild, when you think about it. I think we forget how many times these launches get scrubbed because it's been so long, right? Since we've had one. It's been what, since 2011, right? It's been nine years. So I -- it's crazy, I will tell you, Rachel, just having seen you like 20 minutes ago, the weather has changed quite a bit there.

But again, you have some time ahead of you, right? (CROSSTALK)

CRANE: Yes, look at this.

KEILAR: -- so -- so things could turn around here. And obviously, things are still at this point in time ago.

So walk us through what the whole point of this mission is going to be as these two astronauts head up to the International Space Station.

CRANE: Well, it's important to remember that this is actually a test mission, despite the fact that there are two NASA astronauts on board, headed to the International Space Station for a month to a little over -- you know, perhaps over three months here.

And this is basically to certify Crew Dragon for crewed launches for NASA. Now, SpaceX was given a contract of over $3 billion by NASA to create a spacecraft that could ferry U.S. astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station, to replace the shuttle that, as you said, was retired in 2011.

Since then, the U.S. has been reliant on Russia to ferry our astronauts back and forth to the station. And over the years, we paid them over $4 billion. So the purpose of Commercial Crew was to have a home-grown way of being able to get our astronauts back to the International Space Station, and have it in the hands of commercial industry.

So if SpaceX pulls this off, they will be the first commercial company in history to send astronauts to orbit, Brianna. So hopefully we're -- the weather cooperates and this will be a historic day and a historic launch.

KEILAR: All right. As you said, right now, it's about 50-50.

But let's look on the bright side of this, and let's get a reality check with our meteorologist, Tom Sater.

I mean, I was just looking there at the Rachel Crane horizontal hair forecast that didn't seem --

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right.

[14:05:00]

KEILAR: -- that promising, Tom. But give us the official look at what's happening --

SATER: Right.

KEILAR: -- here for this launch.

SATER: Brianna, it's hard to believe, but just moments ago, a tornado warning was issued about 20 miles north of Cape Canaveral, north of Titusville. It's still a 50-50 chance. I mean, Florida was in a moderate drought at the beginning of the month, and now they've had their wettest May on record.

And now, what we had just this morning, what was an area of low pressure -- we've been watching with rain for days and days -- record rain in Miami -- became a tropical storm an hour before it moved inland.

So on the southern flank of that tropical storm, into areas of, you know, South Carolina, we're seeing the cloud cover, we're seeing the winds. Winds must stay under 30 miles per hour. Now, that's key. And cloud cover up to about 162 feet.

But with the shower and thunderstorm activity -- we could even show you the radar, you get an indication here, and we're going to get in a little closer -- the activity that we've got, surrounding this entire episode and this event, they are surrounding the entire region. Now, again, you notice the flow is through South Florida, South Central Florida, offshore.

And again, when you talk about this -- what we're looking at as far as the activity up in the upper atmosphere, the -- it is a 50-50 chance. They're trying to thread the needle here, which can be a gamble. But they know what they're doing, they have these thresholds for a reason. But when you have a tropical storm that made landfall this morning to the state, north, and you have your wettest May on record with all of this activity in the area, it's a gutsy call.

Now, they still have Saturday and Sunday, obviously. And as that storm system -- Bertha, as it's called -- that tropical storm moves north, conditions could be more favorable. But again, it's those winds and again, where you're looking at conditions right now where you should have at least some areas of a window here.

Seventy-nine degrees at 430, winds south at 10. but it's the gusts that could be a big problem here. And so that's what we're watching. And hopefully, they're going to be able to have a little bit of a window for this big event.

KEILAR: Because they don't want even the -- the gusts can't go above 30 miles per hour, is that right?

SATER: Right.

KEILAR: OK, so I mean, it's just looking at --

SATER: Yes, it's the gusts --

KEILAR: -- yes.

SATER: -- it's cloud cover as well. I mean, it really is something --

KEILAR: OK, cloud cover is --

SATER: -- when you think about what they're going to be looking at here in those hours.

KEILAR: And one of the things that Rachel was saying, Tom -- SATER: Yes, it's a variety of elements, yes.

KEILAR: -- that I thought was so interesting was -- it's -- yes, it's a variety of elements. So one of the things Rachel was saying was, they actually have kind of a different system than we've seen with other -- well, this is a rocket launch -- other shuttles. This actually has a system where they can abort their launch and propel themselves away from this craft --

SATER: Right.

KEILAR: -- should there be any problems, really, for quite some time. So there's a launch pattern going all the way to Ireland that has to be clear. And I expect that would sort of give some unusual conditions, maybe some tougher conditions when it comes to forecasting, for getting a launch like this up versus a 2011 one.

SATER: Absolutely. I mean, if you're talking about that kind of a distance, you do have some greater areas of clarity as far as the weather's concerned, and then retrieval and things of that nature.

Obviously, they don't want to have to go to that route because that's just now testing another whole side to this. But again, 50-50, if we wouldn't have had this area of low pressure in the last couple days become a tropical storm, you know, named this morning, one hour before it made landfall, things would look much better.

But again, because that tropical storm is a tropical storm in nature, it is sweeping around on that back side of that storm, all of this moisture that's now moving across South Central Florida, up and toward areas of Cape Canaveral.

KEILAR: So if they have Saturday and Sunday -- and I know, look, I would love it when I used to have to cover shuttle launches and landings because it's so much fun, right? It's such an amazing thing to watch, but you'd get stuck there --

SATER: Right.

KEILAR: -- for days because these would get scrubbed all of the time.

If you're looking at Saturday and Sunday --

SATER: Right.

KEILAR: -- what do things look like for the possibility of Saturday or Sunday, where they might just say, you know what, we're kind of on the line here, this is a big, big deal today, we're not going to -- we're just going to play this as conservatively as we should and not do this?

SATER: Well, if you look at typical Florida weather and you're at, you know, the end of May, temperatures heat up, you have these onshore flows and offshore flows and the thunderstorms do develop in the afternoons, but you have more of an intermittent time period of windows that are a little bit larger. I mean, the real problem here is that we have Bertha, which was named

an hour before landfall. That's really what's causing the problems here, instead of just feeling all systems go from this morning, and now giving us a 50-50 chance.

[14:10:00]

Saturday and Sunday, obviously, do look much better as the storm system will pull most of this moisture, the cloud clover, the gusty winds and everything away from Cape Canaveral. So we do have that to look forward to.

But, again, they know what they're doing and obviously, we're going to take them at their word for this. If it's all go, it's going to be all go for a good reason.

KEILAR: All right, Tom, do not go far because we're going to be staying on this. We're going to get a quick break in.

But just to recap what we are watching here, this is the Kennedy Space Center at Florida, a historic launching pad as we are waiting Colonel Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, another astronaut, on what is supposed to be a mission to the International Space Station, the first rocket launch from U.S. soil since 2011, the first manned one for SpaceX.

This is a big day, is it going to happen? Everyone holding their breath down there in Cape Canaveral. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:15:25]

KEILAR: All right, we have some breaking news in from Cape Canaveral. We are keeping our eyes on the Kennedy Space Center for what is a big day for the country, and a big day for space travel hopefully.

Because this is the first joint mission, manned mission, between SpaceX and NASA, the first manned mission for SpaceX, period, and this will be the first launch from U.S. soil -- manned -- since 2011. So this is a very big deal, as you can see.

But look to the left of your screen, and you see that thunderbolt. And that is where the lightning -- I should say, that is really the problem. They're hearing thunder there at the Kennedy Space Center, and there are some thresholds here for weather, as we're looking for a launch here in a couple of hours, that are making it unclear right now, 50-50 is what they're putting it at, according to our Rachel Crane, who is there on-site at the Kennedy Space Center, about whether this is going to happen.

Rachel, you are there. I mean, so we're just kind of biting our nails at this point, I will say. It looks a little better. I -- we keep talking to you and we see, every 15 minutes, it looks bad, it looks a little better. At this moment, we're just keeping an eye on these gusts of wind, right? But you have -- I just want to make clear to our viewers what they're watching here. They actually have the crew already, right? Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who are already strapped into this SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule. Tells us where we're at, Rachel.

CRANE: That's correct, Brianna. As I said, you know, they're actually running a little bit ahead of schedule. As you pointed out, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, already strapped into their seats in Crew Dragon capsule. And that hatch will close in, you know, just in a couple of minutes now.

And 45 minutes before launch, that's when that critical go-no go for fuel pull will take place. And if it is a go, if the weather is cooperating, then SpaceX will move forward with fueling the rocket with liquid oxygen and kerosene.

And hopefully, at 4:33 p.m. today, there will be a historic lift-off here at Kennedy Space Center. And 19 hours later, those astronauts will be arriving to the International Space Station and making history. But as you said, we are really biting our nails here.

I mean, the weather keeps changing moment to moment, and it's important to remember that NASA's not just monitoring the weather here at Kennedy Space Center, it's all across that ascent path, in the off chance that their rescue operation is necessary.

And Crew Dragon has a very unique capability. It has an end-to-end abort capability, which no other spacecraft in history has ever had. So NASA says that Crew Dragon could potentially be the safest spacecraft they've ever flown.

So, you know, there's a lot going on here, a lot to be excited about and we are all crossing our fingers and toes that this launch takes off today -- Brianna.

KEILAR: That's right -- and stay with me -- not the least the folks who are hoping that this takes off today -- or not, for safety -- are going to be who we just saw there, the astronauts, Doug and Bob, as you put it, Rachel Crane.

I want to bring in CNN's Miles O'Brien. And you know, Miles, one of the highlights for me of what I've been able to do at CNN has been covering launches. And so I think back now, like a decade, when I was there with you. You're like Mr. Space, this is what you get into, this is what you know everything about. And I just wonder what you're thinking, as you're watching this mission at this critical moment.

MILES O'BRIEN, SPACE ANALYST (via telephone): Well, I've got to just say to the audience, Brianna, that you were so impressive on that occasion, trying to understand a very complex thing for the first time. So you're -- you impressed me as a very good reporter back in the day.

For me, this is -- you know, I've got some butterflies. It's been almost nine years since we saw the last shuttle fly. There was, at that time, a lot of skepticism and concern that NASA's new course, allowing commercial players to provide a service to them -- that is to say, transportation to low-earth orbit -- as opposed to NASA building the rocket under close supervision, under these expensive cost-plus contracts.

There was a lot of skepticism as to whether this idea would really work. And time and again, over the past decade, SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, 18 years ago, has risen to the occasion.

The Dragon-Falcon combination is tried and true. It's flown 21 times to the International Space Station -- they did have one failure, learned a lot of lessons from that -- carrying cargo. And it was a deliberate effort to build a design to carry the cargo that would be adapted for human ratings (ph). So they were thinking about carrying people from the get-go.

[14:20:18]

And so while this is, you know, an important threshold -- when you start strapping human beings into a rocket -- this is a system that has proven itself over the past decade. So while you get butterflies whenever you do this, we know this is a team that knows how to build a good system, that knows how to build a good rocket. And they've proven the skeptics wrong, time and again.

So I'm hopeful of that. But that leaves us with the weather, which of course no one can control. And there's a tornado warning in this vicinity of the Kennedy Space Center right now, and there's a huge tropical system int he southeastern Pacific, off of Charleston.

The chances of the weather going green -- as we say -- all the way up that coast, which it has to -- in case there's an abort scenario, where they have to fish that capsule out of the water -- the chances of that all coming together right now seems slim. But what the heck, you might as well try. If nothing else, we'll have an excellent dress rehearsal for a Saturday launch, potentially.

KEILAR: Yes. An excellent dress rehearsal. OK, Miles, stay with me because we're keeping an eye, here, on Florida, the U.S. on the verge as well of this milestone in Florida.

But we're keeping our eye on another, certainly more grim, milestone, which is 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus. This is Dr. Anthony Fauci, make some revealing comments about masks, vaccines as well as the future of schools? You'll want to hear this, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:26:25]

KEILAR: We're now on the verge of a crushing reality as the U.S. nears 100,000 deaths amid this pandemic. At this hour, 99,674 people have been taken from their families in just four months, as confirmed cases are now approaching 1.7 million.

The country is open, but how much really depends on where you live. And so, too, do the trends. Just taking a look at this map here, and the national picture is promising, a clear decline in new cases. But then this red and this orange on the map, that is some cause for alarm. Much of south moving -- in much of the south, they're moving in the wrong direction.

The return of life as we knew it means that more people are outside. Judging from the pictures that we saw from the long Memorial Day weekend, many Americans who are disregarding what scientists now say is essential. That is, wearing a mask.

The president dismisses doing so as politically correct. But as top expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says, it's what every American should do. He says, that's why he does it.

As the nation's leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Fauci says he's trying to set an example by wearing his mask. It's a stark contrast to the president, who still does not wear a mask in public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I mean, I wear it for the reason that I believe it is effective. It is -- it's not 100 percent effective. I mean, it's sort of respect for another person, and have that other person respect you. You wear a mask, they wear a mask, you protect each other.

I mean, I do it when I'm in the public for the reasons that, A, I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it, B, a symbol for people to see that that's the kind of thing you should be doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: CNN's Jason Carroll is following the other headlines around the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the nation moves forward with easing restrictions and reopening businesses, there are worries about a so-called second wave of coronavirus. Today, the country's leading health expert on the pandemic says it may not be inevitable if people take the proper precautions.

FAUCI: To have the workforce, the system and the will to do the kinds of things, that ought to be clear and effective -- identification, isolation and contact tracing -- we can prevent this second wave that we're talking about, if we do it correctly.

CARROLL (voice-over): But after seeing images like this of packed party-goers at a pool over the holiday weekend, Dr. Anthony Fauci also had this note of caution.

FAUCI: That's inviting a situation that could get out of control. Don't start leap-frogging over some of the recommendations in the guidelines, because that's really tempting fate and asking for trouble. CARROLL (voice-over): A new study, showing, again, the toll COVID-19 has taken on the country. This year, the number of people dying each day in the United States since April is 10 percent higher than in previous years. That, according to the Health Care Cost Institute in Washington. This, as 14 states are still seeing increases of new cases, several of those states, located in the south.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R), MISSISSIPPI: We do continue to see a steady number of cases in our state. That number is not declining significantly, and it certainly should serve as a warning to all of us that this disease is not disappearing.

CARROLL (voice-over: Another warning regarding the accuracy of antibody tests? The Centers for Disease Control now says up to half of the time, those test results may be wrong. The CDC also says for now, those tests should not be used in making policy decisions about returning to work or school. Still, some communities, feeling confident about reopening after seeing declines in the number of new cases.

[14:30:06]

In Florida, Disney hopes to reopen its theme parks to the --