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WATCH: NASA holds news conference on SpaceX launch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The two astronauts who will end a nine-year launch drought for NASA flew to Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday, 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 aboard one of the space agency’s jet planes.

They’re scheduled to blast off next Wednesday atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, bound for the International Space Station. They’ll soar from the same pad where Atlantis closed out the space shuttle program in 2011, the last home launch for NASA astronauts.

READ MORE: NASA shutting down space telescope, infrared eyes to cosmos

Awaiting the astronauts at Kennedy’s former shuttle landing strip were the center’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 program has been years in the making. Boeing, the competing company, isn’t expect to launch its first astronauts until next year.

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