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NASA Astronauts Make Final Preparations for First Private Space Launch


NASA astronauts Robert Behnken , left, and Doug Hurley take part in a news conference after they arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA Astronauts Make Final Preparations for First Private Space Launch
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Two American space agency astronauts are making final preparations for the first crewed space flight to launch from American soil since 2011.

Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley - both former NASA shuttle pilots – arrived at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center last week. They had been training at their home base in Houston, Texas.

The astronauts are set to launch from Kennedy on a test mission to the International Space Station, or ISS, on Wednesday, May 27.

They will fly on a Crew Dragon spacecraft, carried by a Falcon 9 rocket. The American company SpaceX designed and built each. The flight will be the first by a private company to send astronauts into orbit.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is raised into vertical position on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is raised into vertical position on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Demo-2 mission, Thursday, May 21, 2020, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The trip will also mark the first U.S.-based space launch since NASA ended its space shuttle program nine years ago. Since then, American astronauts have been flying to the ISS on Russian rockets launched from Kazakhstan.

Hurley was one of the four astronauts who took part in the final NASA shuttle flight in July 2011. Speaking to reporters in Florida, he said “it has been a long road” back. But he added that it was “humbling to be here to start out the next launch from the United States.”

Behnken called it “an awesome time to be an astronaut, with a new spacecraft.”

Kennedy Space Center’s director, former shuttle commander Robert Cabana, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, welcomed the astronauts on their arrival. The NASA chief told the two he saw them as “a bright light for all of America right now.”

The crowd in attendance was greatly reduced because of the coronavirus crisis. The astronauts did not wear nose and mouth covers but stayed socially distant. Cabana and Bridenstine wore face coverings.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks at a news conference after NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks at a news conference after NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Wednesday, May 20, 2020. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Bridenstine spoke to the group. During these difficult times, he said, “this is a moment when we can all look and be inspired as to what the future holds.”

The two astronauts do not know how long they will remain at the ISS, but the stay is expected to last at least a month. NASA has said the length of stay will be decided after their arrival and will be “based on the readiness” of the next crew launch.

Only one American is currently on the ISS, astronaut Chris Cassidy. NASA says the three U.S. astronauts will team up to test the Crew Dragon’s systems and carry out research and maintenance operations.

Some of the tests will aim to confirm that the spacecraft will be able to carry out future missions while connected to the station for up to 210 days, NASA said.

The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which partners with private American companies to develop U.S. spaceflight systems.

NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing in 2014 to transport crews from the United States to the ISS. The space agency is paying the two companies a combined $6.8 billion to build competing rocket and capsule systems.

Boeing is also preparing to launch astronauts aboard its Starliner spacecraft to the ISS. But the company suffered a setback in December during an unmanned test flight to reach the space station.

After lifting off for the test flight, the Starliner experienced software issues that sent the spacecraft to the wrong orbit, causing officials to cancel its trip to the ISS. Boeing says it has been working on the software issues and plans to carry out another unpiloted test flight later this year.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and NASA. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

mission – n. an important task, usually involving travel somewhere​

humbling adj. not proud or arrogant

inspirev. to make someone feel that they want to do something and can do it​

maintenancen. work that is done to keep something in good condition

setback n. a problem that makes something happen later or more slowly than it should

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