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SpaceX set to blast into new era of human spaceflight

Florida

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. (WESH)—After nearly a decade, American manned spaceflight is back on Florida’s Space Coast.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon carried by a Falcon 9 rocket is set to lift off Wednesday afternoon with two Astronauts on board, headed to the International Space Station on an open-ended mission. You’ll be able to watch live coverage beginning at 2 p.m. in the video player above.

It was nine years ago that Americans last lifted off from American soil on an American rocket. Ever since, the U.S. has been paying Russia to ferry astronauts to the space station.

Now, for the first time, it’s up to a private American company, SpaceX, to do the job using a crew capsule named Dragon sitting on top of a rocket named Falcon 9.

Inside will be veteran NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.

In this Thursday, March 19, 2020 photo made available by SpaceX, astronauts Doug Hurley, foreground, and Bob Behnken work in SpaceX’s flight simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., as SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, run a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft. (SpaceX via AP)

“It takes a lot of confidence and audacity to pull off a human spaceflight mission but you also need to be a little bit paranoid that things can get complicated really quick and you need to be prepared for that,” Behnken said during a news conference last week.

Complicating the mission has been the coronavirus pandemic. The virus has forced half the SpaceX engineers to work from home.

The astronauts have been regularly tested for COVID-19 and isolated since March

“We’ve been in quarantine probably longer than any other space crew has ever been in the history of the space program,” Hurley said.

In ordinary times, the beaches and roads along the Space Coast would be packed with hundreds of thousands of spectators, eager to witness the first astronaut launch from Florida in nine years.

In the age of coronavirus, local officials and NASA are split on whether that’s a good idea.

NASA and SpaceX are urging spectators to stay at home for safety reasons. Officials in Brevard County, though, are rolling out the welcome mat in an effort to jump-start a tourism industry hit hard this spring by coronavirus-related lockdowns.

“I’m not going to tell Americans they can’t watch a great piece of history. I’m just not going to do it,” Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey said.

This illustration made available by SpaceX depicts the company’s Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket during the uncrewed In-Flight Abort Test for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. (SpaceX via AP)

SpaceX has been flying a cargo version of the Falcon 9 rocket to the space station for years. The company has suffered very public setbacks, but also a string of impressive successes.

The company was founded by Elon Musk, who also founded Tesla and once sent an astronaut mannequin in a Tesla into orbit around the sun.

For this mission, Hurley and Behnken will sport new state-of-the-art SpaceX suits and arrive to the rocket in a Tesla.

As NASA entrusts SpaceX with launching Hurley and Behnken to the space station and bringing them home safely again, NASA itself is now focused on a new mission. Returning to the moon within four years.

“These are different times, but it is also a time when we need to be doing amazing things as a nation, and inspiring the entire world. And that’s what we’re doing,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

FILE – In this Thursday, May 21, 2020 file photo, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is rolled out of the horizontal integration facility at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)

The rocket will lift-off from Kennedy Space Center’s launch pad 39A, which is the same pad that launched Apollo missions and space shuttle missions in years past. It’ll again take center stage in American spaceflight Wednesday at 4:33 at p.m.

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