STERLING, Va. – President Donald Trump plans to be on the Florida coast on Wednesday to see American astronauts go into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center for the first time in nearly a decade.
It will be the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011 that American astronauts will launch into space aboard a US rocket from US soil.
Also new Wednesday: a private company, not NASA, runs the show.
Elon Musk's SpaceX is the driver and NASA the customer as the companies begin to transport astronauts to the International Space Station. Since American ferries are no longer in use, the United States has had to rely on Russia to travel to the station.
The launch of the NASA / SpaceX Commercial Crew flight test will take NASA's newest test pilots, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
They are scheduled to take off at 4:33 p.m. EDT from launch pad 39A, the same one that Apollo astronauts used to reach the moon.
The move to private companies allows NASA to focus on deep space travel. The space agency is working to return astronauts to the moon in 2024 under orders from the White House, but that time frame seems increasingly unlikely even as three newly-elected commercial teams rush to develop lunar landers. Mars also calls.
The White House portrayed the launch as an extension of Trump's promise to reaffirm American dominance in space. He recently oversaw the creation of the Space Force as the sixth branch of the military.
"Our destiny, beyond Earth, is not just a matter of national identity, but a matter of national security," Trump said in a statement.
Vice President Mike Pence, president of the National Space Council, also plans to attend the launch on Wednesday.
NASA has discouraged viewers, citing the pandemic, and is limiting the number of visitors inside the space center.
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This story has been corrected to reflect that almost a decade, not more than a decade, has passed since American astronauts were launched into space.
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