SpaceX goes vertical at Kennedy Space Center ahead of first launch with astronauts

Preparations are underway less than a week before astronauts launch from Kennedy Space Center.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket went vertical at Kennedy Space Center early Thursday, a 230-foot signal that pad 39A is almost ready to host the first crewed launch from American soil in nearly a decade, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

SpaceX teams rolled the rocket and attached Crew Dragon capsule out of the horizontal integration facility overnight, then slowly raised it next to the launch tower and into its final position. The process was complete by around 9 a.m.

If all goes according to plan, including a smooth flight readiness review scheduled to conclude Thursday evening, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will launch to the International Space Station at 4:33 p.m. next Wednesday. They should arrive before noon the following day.

[MORE COVERAGE: American spaceflight history: Space Shuttle establishes lasting human presence in space]

The duo flew into KSC's former shuttle landing facility Wednesday, kicking off a busy week of rehearsals, spacesuit fit testing, additional time in the Crew Dragon capsule, and readiness reviews. Their families – observing strict coronavirus quarantine procedures – will soon join them this week, too.

Over the weekend, the Space Force is expected to issue its first weather forecast for the 4:33 p.m. launch. Then on Monday, teams will conduct another meeting known as the launch readiness review and release the results by no earlier than 6 p.m.

[RETURN TO SPACE: NASA astronauts arrive in Florida, marking 1 week countdown to historic launch]

Because Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon have to precisely target the ISS flying some 250 miles in Earth orbit, SpaceX and NASA have an instantaneous window – that means if liftoff can’t happen by 4:33 p.m. Wednesday, teams will have to target the backup date of May 30.