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Nasa’s 1st US astronaut launch in years takes place TOMORROW – as Elon Musk SpaceX ship prepares for historic take-off

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

Nasa heroes Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will blast into orbit on May 30 aboard a spacecraft built by California rocket firm SpaceX.

The pair will spend 24 hours in orbit before docking with the International Space Station roughly 250 miles above Earth.

Their historic flight was originally due to liftoff on Wednesday but was called off at the last minute due to poor weather conditions.

The launch was quickly rescheduled, and should it go ahead will go a long way towards restoring  America's dominance in space, according to experts.

Nasa says the mission - dubbed Demo-2 - will lay the groundwork for future manned flights to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The historic flight will also mark the first time astronauts have flown into orbit using a spacecraft built by a private company.

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

"I think it's an outstanding flying machine," Hurley said upon arrival at Kennedy Space Center last week.

"It is definitely not the space shuttle," Hurley said of the SpaceX craft. "It's much smaller, but it's a capsule. It's state of the art from a technology standpoint."

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

The mission, dubbed Demo-2, is set for liftoff from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 8:23pm BST (3:23 pm ET) on May 30.

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

As with Wednesday's attempt, the Air Force's 45th Weather Squadron will analyse the forecast and give either a red or green light.

The first of these checks will take place roughly four hours and 30 minutes before liftoff followed by periodic reviews right up to launch.

Demo-2 will be live-streamed for free on the NasaTV Youtube channel.

Space fans can also watch the launch via the SpaceX website and the firm's official YouTube channel.

Why did Nasa cancel Wednesday's launch?

SpaceX crew mission chief Benji Reed warned the mission could be cancelled at the last minute.

And sadly this turned out to be the case, with the launch binned due to bad weather and a high chance of lightning.

Just two hours ahead of launch a tornado warning was issued a stone's throw away from where the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to leave.

"I would expect there to be a very high chance of scrub due to the weather," Reed told Click Orlando last week.

"And given the time of year, it wouldn't surprise me as well."

Human spaceflights are far riskier than cargo-only trips, so weather conditions need to be perfect.

Clear skies and low winds are optimal for a successful launch – and even an emergency "mission abort" requires good weather for a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

Nasa keeps track of more than 50 locations across the ocean to ensure a splashdown can be safely performed.

SpaceX said on Tuesday that the weather forecast for launch was "60 per cent favourable."

Following Wednesday's cancellation, Nasa boss Jim Bridenstine said the rocket could have triggered lightning if it had lifted off.

He said that there was "too much electricity in the atmosphere".

"There wasn't really a lightning storm or anything like that," Bridenstine explained.

"But there was concern that if we did launch, it could actually trigger lightning."

Human spaceflights are far riskier than cargo-only trips, so weather conditions need to be perfect.

Clear skies and low winds are optimal for a successful launch – and even an emergency "mission abort" requires good weather for a safe splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

Nasa keeps track of more than 50 locations across the ocean to ensure a splashdown can be safely performed.

Who is on board?

Two astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, will be making the trip to the International Space Station (ISS).

They face "an extended stay at the space station", 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 SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Centre on May 30.

They will 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 awaiting 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...

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

As is customary for SpaceX flights, 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's needed to take astronauts back to Earth.

Nasa has not yet selected 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 from an air base in Khazakstan.

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 have left the space agency without a way to carry out manned space flights for years.

Nasa hopes to fill the gap with spacecraft launched by private companies such as 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 currently uses its reusable rockets to fly cargo to the International Space Station for Nasa.

It also carries satellites and other space tech into orbit for various international governments and companies.

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.

Nasa and SpaceX prepare to return human spaceflight to American soil after nearly a decade

In other news, a tropical storm grounded a key SpaceX launch twice last week.

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

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

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