Astronauts arriving for NASA’s 1st home launch in decade

SpaceX test will mark first astronaut launch for private company

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA flew to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.

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It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.

NASA test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken departed Houston aboard one of the space agency’s jet planes.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, assigned to fly on the first test flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, pose inside a mockup of the spacecraft on Aug. 2, 2018. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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They’re scheduled to blast off next Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, bound for the International Space Station. They’ll soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.

Awaiting the astronauts at Kennedy’s former shuttle landing strip were the center’s director, former shuttle commander Robert Cabana, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft undergoes final processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in preparation for the Demo-2 launch. (SpaceX via NASA)

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The welcoming committee was reduced drastically in size because of the coronavirus pandemic. Journalists were told to wear masks.

NASA’s commercial crew program has been years in the making. Boeing, the competing company, isn’t expect to launch its first astronauts until next year.

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