NASA, SpaceX bringing astronaut launches back to home turf

(AP) – For the first time in nearly a decade, U.S. astronauts are about to blast into orbit aboard an American rocket from American soil. And for the first time in the history of human spaceflight, a private company is running the show.

Elon Musk's SpaceX is the conductor and NASA the customer as businesses begin chauffeuring astronauts to the International Space Station.

The curtain rises next Wednesday with the scheduled liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule with two NASA astronauts, a test flight years in the making.

The drama unfolds from the exact spot where men flew to the moon and the last space shuttle soared from Kennedy Space Center.

While Florida's Space Coast has seen plenty of launches since the shuttle's farewell tour in 2011 — even at the height of the coronavirus pandemic — they were for satellites, robotic explorers and space station supplies. The only route to orbit for astronauts was on Russian rockets.

NASA’s newest test pilots, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, are launching from home turf with SpaceX presiding over the countdown.

“Getting a chance again to see human spaceflight in our own backyard," Behnken said. “That’s the thing that’s most exciting for me.”