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NASA, SpaceX bringing astronaut launches back to home turf

The May 27, 2020 launch will be the first solely run by a private company.
Credit: AP
Aug. 13, 2019 file photo.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — It's been almost nine years since America launched a crewed space mission from U.S. soil. 

But that changes on May 27, 2020. That's when two American astronauts blast into orbit on board an American-made rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida; the same place from which humanity sent men to the moon, and space shuttle Atlantis took off for it's final mission.

This will also be the first time in the history of human spaceflight that a private company, SpaceX, is running the show, though NASA will provide input and oversight.

Two NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, will ride SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket inside a Crew Dragon capsule next week to rendezvous with the International Space Station.

Credit: AP
This combination of undated photos made available by SpaceX shows astronauts Bob Behnken, left, and Doug Hurley at SpaceX Headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. With liftoff scheduled for May 27, 2020, the astronauts are about to blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil for the first time in nearly a decade. And for the first time in the history of human spaceflight, a private company -- SpaceX -- is providing the ride. (SpaceX via AP)

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The Demo-2 mission is expected to last up to four months. NASA and SpaceX will evaluate the mission as it progresses to determine its duration. Demo-2 is designed to demonstrate the ability of the Crew Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket to function together for manned flights. If this mission is successful, it will allow SpaceX to begin regular, crewed flights to the ISS using the rocket/capsule combo.

Watch an animation of the mission below:

According to Space.com, SpaceX currently has a $2.6 billion contract with NASA to perform six flights with manned capsules. SpaceX also already has a separate contract with the space agency to conduct robotic resupply missions to the ISS which it has been doing since 2012.

Once the Crew Dragon capsule successfully docks with the ISS, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will join Maine native Chris Cassidy, the mission commander for ISS Expedition 63. Cassidy has been aboard the space station since early April and worked for a couple weeks with another Maine native, Jessica Meir. It was also the first time two Mainers served together aboard the ISS. Doctor Meir returned to Earth on April 17, 2020 after spending more than six months in space.

Credit: AP
In this photo made from video footage released by Roscosmos space agency U.S. astronaut Jessica Meir sits in a chair shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-15 space capsule near the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, Friday, April 17, 2020. An International Space Station crew has landed safely after more than 200 days in space. The Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan, Meir and Russian space agency Roscosmos' Oleg Skripochka touched down on Friday on the steppes of Kazakhstan. (Roscosmos Space Agency via AP)

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Though NASA has launched missions from Florida since the final space shuttle mission in 2011, they were all for satellites, unmanned explorers, and supplies for the space station. The only way for American astronauts to get to the International Space Station was aboard a Russian rocket, and the only way to return home was in a Russian capsule, far from the eyes of the American public. Many hope the regular launching of crewed space flights from the U.S. will get Americans excited once again about space travel.

Officials on Friday will make a final determination in a Flight Readiness Meeting whether the SpaceX Demo-2 flight meets all requirements to launch next week. NASA is expected to hold a press conference Friday at 6 p.m. EDT.

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