Astronauts prepare for the first manned orbital mission from U.S. in nearly a decade: “We’re go for launch”

Blast-off scheduled for 4:33 p.m.

The U.S. is hours away from a series of firsts for the nation’s space program: the first manned orbital mission in nearly a decade, and the first using a privately owned and operated spacecraft. But the mission’s ability to launch will all depend on the weather.

The launch forecast is improving. For SpaceX and its Falcon 9 rocket, there’s a 60% chance the weather on the launch pad will cooperate for a moment in space history.

Along the U.S. eastern seaboard, seas are calm. That’s important, because in a launch crisis, the SpaceX capsule would ditch to safety in the Atlantic Ocean.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley have both flown twice before to the International Space Station. They’re more than crewmates — they’re best friends.

“I’ve gotta believe that’s a help,” said CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

“It absolutely is a help,” Behnken said. “I think we’re way past the polite stage in our relationship.”

NASA hired SpaceX to design and build a new generation of spacecraft — and the Falcon 9 brings some new amenities to space travel. For starters, it’s reusable, which revolutionized rocketry by slashing costs.

Astronauts in streamlined suits will climb into a crew capsule with a retro look. But with all the new technology inside, Crew Dragon has been compared to a “Flying iPhone.”

CBS News spoke with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Musk described Behnken and Hurley as “cool as a cucumber,” and said they have “nerves of steel.”

“I sent them a text,” Bridenstine said. “‘If there’s anything you need me to do to stop this, I’ll stop this in a heartbeat’ … and both said, ‘We’re go for launch.'”

Musk told CBS News that early on, he gave his fledgling SpaceX company less than a 1% chance of succeeding — and now, it’s about to make history. The astronauts will likely spend at least six weeks aboard the space station. But Musk’s goal — everyone’s goal — is to launch them safely.

feature image: NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley via SPACEX