Launch marks first manned American space flight in nearly a decade - NBC's Tom Costello reports
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (KYMA, KECY/NBC News) - It was nearly 9 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 International Space Station (ISS.)
Now, for the first time, it's up to a private American company - SpaceX - to do the job - using a space capsule named Dragon sitting on top of a rockegt named Falcon 9. Inside the capsule, veteran NASA astronautes Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken.
"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." said Behnken.
Complicating the mission - the coronavirus has forced half the Spacex engineers to work from home. The astronauts themselves have been regularly tested for the virus, 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." said Hurley.
SpaceX has been flying a cargo version of this same rocket to the space station for years.
The company has suffered very public setback,s but also a string of impressive successes. Spacex was, of course, founded by Elon Musk, who also founded Tesla. He once sent an astronaut mannequin in a Tesla into orbit around the sun.
For this mission, astronauts Hurley and Behnken will sport new state-of-the-art SpaceX suits, and they'll arrive in, what else? A Tesla!
Former astronaut Mike Massimino will be part of the Discovery Channel's coverage of the launch.
"How trusting are you right now of Space X and its technology and expertise to get this job done?" asked NBC's Tom Costello.
"I'm very trusting of SpaceX. I have a lot of confidence in this one. I am not fearful for my friends. I'm very optimistic and very excited about the possibility." replied Massimino.
As NASA entrusts SpaceX with launching Hurely and Behnken towards the space station, and then bringing them home again safely, the space agency will focus 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." said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
The launch is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. It will lift off from the Kennedy Space Center launch pad 39-A. That's the same pad that launched Apollo missions and space shuttle missions over the years.
And now it's making history again with the first private sector launch carrying American astronauts to the space station.