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Astronauts "very excited" for SpaceX Crew Dragon launch to space station this weekend

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NASA is planning to launch the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft Sunday evening. Watch it live here. Our original story appears below. 

NASA and SpaceX managers met at the Kennedy Space Center Monday to review preparations for launch of a Crew Dragon spacecraft this weekend on its first operational flight to ferry four astronauts to the International Space Station.

Keeping tabs on threatening weather from Tropical Storm Eta, the four "Crew-1" astronauts — commander Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi — flew to the Florida spaceport Sunday amid strict coronavirus quarantine protocols.

"As you can imagine, we're very excited to be here," Hopkins told reporters during a virtual news conference Monday. "We've been here less than 24 hours, and in that time we have seen our rocket, we've seen our space vehicle, 'Resilience,' and we've seen our spacesuits. And so for an astronaut, that's considered a pretty good day."

SpaceX's commercially developed Crew Dragon spacecraft, making its first operational flight, is set to carry four astronauts to the International Space Station this weekend. NASA

Asked about the weather, Hopkins said the crew was following developments "very closely. It has had some impacts on our preparations. ... But right now, we're still on a plan to be ready to launch on the 14th."

With high winds and rain buffeting Florida's Space Coast, SpaceX delayed a planned first stage engine test firing of the crew's Falcon 9 rocket from Monday to Tuesday, coinciding with the conclusion of NASA's two-day flight readiness review.

Assuming the engine test goes well and the weather cooperates, Hopkins and his crewmates plan to blast off from historic pad 39A at 7:27 p.m. ET Saturday — one day later than initially planned — riding into orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. With an on-time launch, the Crew Dragon capsule will dock at the station's forward port the following day.

Standing by to welcome them aboard will be Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov, Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins. They launched to the station October 14 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Rubins used NASA's last currently contracted Soyuz seat. NASA is counting on SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, and eventually Boeing's CST-100 Starliner, to end the agency's sole reliance on Russian for transportation to and from the station.

The Crew-1 astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center Sunday to make final preparations for launch. Left to right: Japanese astronaut Soichi Wakata, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and mission commander Michael Hopkins. Steven Clark/Spaceflight Now

"Our relationship with our Russian partners and the ability to fly with them to the International Space Station on the Soyuz has been fantastic," said Hopkins, who flew aboard a Soyuz for his first flight to the station in 2013. "But at the same time, it's also good to have your own capabilities. And it's great for our country, it's great for the world to have options in terms of getting into space."

Using the three-seat Soyuz, the station was limited to six crew members. The Crew Dragon will carry four astronauts at a time to the lab complex, boosting the station crew to seven and increasing the amount of research that can be carried out.

"It's going to be exciting to see how much work we're going be able to get done where we're there," Hopkins said. "I know they've got a plan, we actually yesterday had a chance to kind of see what that first week looks like. And already, there's not a lot of gray space in there. So I think they're going to keep us pretty busy."

The Crew-1 launch follows two successful Crew Dragon test flights to the lab complex, the first without a crew on board and the second carrying astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken. Both missions went well, clearing the way for the first operational flight.

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