Nasa is sending astronauts to ISS on Elon Musk's spaceship for 1st time next week – allowing US to ditch Russian rockets

ASTRONAUTS will next week launch into space from US soil for the first time in almost a decade.

Nasa spacefarers Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will liftoff May 27 on a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station.

If successful, the historic flight will mark the first time astronauts have flown to orbit using a spacecraft built by a private rocket company.

Nasa has depended on Russia's space agency Roscosmos for its manned launches since the Space Shuttle programme was shut down in 2011.

"Human spaceflight is returning to the United States," Nasa tweeted.

The mission will lay the groundwork for future manned flights to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

When is the Nasa/SpaceX flight and how can I watch it?

The mission, dubbed Demo-2, will liftoff from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 9:32pm BST (4:32 pm ET) on May 27.

A Falcon 9 rocket will blast into space from Launch Complex 39a – the same launchpad used during the historic Apollo 11 Moon landings.

The Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron will analyse the forecast and give either a red or green light roughly four hours and 30 minutes before liftoff.

If the event is cancelled due to bad weather, the mission will be pushed back to the May 30 backup date.

Demo-2 will be live-streamed for free here on NasaTV.

Space fans will also be able to watch the launch via the SpaceX website and the firm's official YouTube channel.

Who is on board?

Two astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, will be making the trip to the ISS.

They face "an extended stay at the space station for the Demo-2 mission", according to Nasa

"The specific duration of the mission is to be determined."

Both Behnken, 49, and Hurley, 53, have undergone extensive training ahead of the historic mission and have plenty of spaceflight experience.

Born in St. Anne, Missouri, Behnken previously worked for the US Air Force before joining Nasa.

"Behnken will be the joint operations commander for the mission, responsible for activities such as rendezvous, docking and undocking, as well as Demo-2 activities while the spacecraft is docked to the space station," Nasa said.

"He was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2000 and has completed two space shuttle flights."

Fellow crewman Hurley was born in New York and was previously a fighter pilot for the US Marine Corps.

"Hurley will be the spacecraft commander for Demo-2, responsible for activities such as launch, landing and recovery," Nasa said.

"He was selected as an astronaut in 2000 and has completed two spaceflights."

What will happen?

Nasa astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will make their way to a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Centre on May 27.

They will actually be ferried to the spacecraft in a Tesla Model X electric car sporting the Nasa logo.

That's because billionaire SpaceX boss Elon Musk is also CEO of Tesla.

Hurley and Behnken will take a special elevator up 230ft to a SpaceX Crew Draon capsule atop the Falcon 9 rocket.

When the countdown hits zero, the rocket will blast into space – carrying astronauts into orbit from US soil for the first time since 2011.

What is the ISS?

Here's what you need to know about the International Space Station…

  • The International Space Station, often abbreviated to ISS, is a large space craft that orbits Earth and houses astronauts who go up there to complete scientific missions
  • Many countries worked together to build it and they work together to use it
  • It is made up of many pieces, which astronauts had to send up individually on rockets and put together from 1998 to 2000
  • Ever since the year 2000, people have lived on the ISS
  • Nasa uses the station to learn about living and working in space
  • It is approximately 250 miles above Earth and orbits around the planet just like a satellite
  • Living inside the ISS is said to be like living inside a big house with five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a gym, lots of science labs and a big bay window for viewing Earth

Once in orbit, the Crew Dragon capsule carrying Hurley and Behnken will separate from the rocket booster.

As is customary for SpaceX rockets, the booster will turn around and return to Earth so it can be refurbished and used on a future mission.

"Crew Dragon will accelerate its two passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station," Nasa said.

"Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will verify the spacecraft is performing as intended by testing the environmental control system, the displays and control system and the maneuvering thrusters, among other things."

About 24 hours after launch, Crew Dragon will be in position to dock with the space station.

It can do this automatically but astronauts have the option to take control themselves if something goes wrong.

"After successfully docking, Behnken and Hurley will be welcomed aboard station and will become members of the Expedition 63 crew," Nasa continued.

"They will perform tests on Crew Dragon in addition to conducting research and other tasks with the space station crew."

The Crew Dragon capsule will remain docked on the ISS until it needs to take astronauts back home.

Nasa has not yet determined a date for the return flight.

When did astronauts last launch from the US?

Nasa currently sends astronauts into space by piggybacking on launches of Russian Soyuz rockets.

The US space agency last fired one of its own astronauts into space in 2011.

Nasa retired its astronaut-carrying space shuttles that year to make way for a new space exploration program aimed at sending man to asteroids and other deep space targets.

However, multiple delays to its development schedule has left the space agency without a way to fire astronauts to space for several years.

Nasa hopes to fill the gap with spacecraft launched by private companies like SpaceX, owned by Musk, and Blue Origin, run by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos.

SpaceX has carried out dozens of successful safety tests but recent setbacks have caught the ire of Nasa boss Jim Bridenstine.

Specifically, he lambasted SpaceX for setting unrealistic timelines for the development of its space technologies.

The Crew Dragon capsule was due to launch astronauts for the first time last year but the flight was pushed back after a safety test resulted in an unmanned capsule exploding in April 2019.

No one was killed in the blast but the incident delayed the craft's launch schedule by more than 12 months.

Bridenstine recently held a joint conference with Musk after maligning the company on Twitter.

"I have been focused on returning to realism when it comes to costs and schedules," said the Nasa Administrator.

"So I was signalling – and I haven't done it just to SpaceX but to all of our contractors – that we need more realism built into the development timelines."

What is SpaceX?

SpaceX is a cash-flushed rocket company that wants to take man to Mars.

It was set up by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk in 2002 and is based in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX's first aim was to build rockets that could autonomously land back on Earth and be re-used.

Musk hoped the technology would make flying and operating space flights far cheaper.

SpaceX now uses its reusable rockets to fly cargo – and soon astronauts – to the International Space Station for Nasa.

The company will take astronauts up to the ISS for the first time in 2020.

Other future missions involve carrying tourists and astronauts to the Moon.

Musk has repeatedly said he believes humanity must colonise Mars to save itself from extinction.

He plans to get a SpaceX rocket to the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.

In other news, a tropical storm has grounded a key SpaceX launch twice since Sunday.

Nasa recently unveiled the Tesla car that will be ferrying astronauts to next week's historic launch.

And, incredible photos of eerie Martian landscapes have been released online by scientists.

Are you excited for the SpaceX launch? Let us know in the comments!

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