"The future is here": International Space Station Commander Chris Cassidy previews historic SpaceX launch

ISS commander prepares for crew from U.S.

International Space Station Commander Chris Cassidy told "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil Monday he is "very confident" in SpaceX and NASA's ability to send astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the station safely. An astronaut has not taken off for the ISS from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, and the mission on Wednesday marks the first time Elon Musk's SpaceX company will launch a manned mission into space. 

"It's a gigantic deal. We retired the shuttle for very sound reasons," Cassidy said, referring to the Space Shuttle Program NASA retired in 2011. "That decision was made with aims to move towards the future. And now the future is here." 

Behnken and Hurley will be aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule for Demo-2, and Hurley expressed no doubt that the dual effort between a government agency and commercial company will work for the best.

"They're smart engineers at NASA. They're smart engineers at SpaceX, all with motivation to do the same thing, and that's fly missions effectively and safely," he said. 

Cassidy said the partnership was "healthy" — combining the "faster" and "cheaper" efforts of a private company with the "decades based of safety culture" at NASA.

"I think it's been healthy for the growth of both organizations," he said. 

Tech billionaire Elon Musk has expressed hope for humans to become a "multi-planetary" species, and Cassidy agrees that is where the future is headed. 

"I think it's definitely gonna happen. It's just a matter of what the timescale is," he said. "Maybe it's in 100 years… but it's just been a little over 100 years since the Wright Brothers flew, and think of where we are now, me talking to you from the space station."

Cassidy recounted the words of John Young, the ninth person to walk on the moon, when both of their careers at NASA overlapped in 2004: "Single planet species don't survive."

"That has stuck with me all these years," he said. 

Cassidy was also asked about whether concerns stemming from the coronavirus pandemic were on his mind as two people from Earth prepare to board the isolated station.

"Certainly we're worried about it," he said, adding that he and the ISS crew have confidence in the medical teams testing Behnken and Hurley, and that the risk of COVID-19 would be "as low of a probability" as it could be. 

Though he remains hundreds of miles above Earth, Cassidy said the coronavirus crisis was close to his heart.

"You see those numbers that I think everybody's watching, and it's dawned on me a week ago that every single one of those numbers is a story. It's a family. It's a life," he said. "And that was impactful to me, particularly as I was looking out the window thinking about it."