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Astronauts arrive for Nasa’s first home launch in decade

They will soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the space shuttle programme in 2011, the last home launch for Nasa astronauts.

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(John Raoux/AP)

(John Raoux/AP)

(John Raoux/AP)

The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for Nasa have flown to Kennedy Space Centre, exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.

It will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.

Nasa test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken departed Houston on board one of the space agency’s jets.

They are scheduled to blast off next Wednesday on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, bound for the International Space Station.

They will soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the space shuttle programme in 2011, the last home launch for Nasa astronauts.

Awaiting the astronauts at Kennedy’s former shuttle landing strip were the centre’s director, former shuttle commander Robert Cabana, and Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The welcoming committee was reduced drastically in size because of the coronavirus pandemic. Journalists were told to wear masks.

Nasa’s commercial crew programme has been years in the making. Boeing, the competing company, is not expect to launch its first astronauts until next year.

PA