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Geoff Brumfiel

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

NASA astronauts are heading to space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years, aboard SpaceX's Dragon capsule, the maiden crewed flight of the innovative spacecraft.

The mission, which is sending Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, is a bold new venture for the space agency's plan to allow commercial companies to take its astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

NASA and SpaceX were ready to launch a pair of astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly nine years on Wednesday, but the weather had other ideas.

This week, NASA and the commercial company SpaceX are set to launch two astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) in a new capsule. This is the first launch by NASA of astronauts from U.S. soil in nearly a decade, but it's happening in the middle of a pandemic.

Here are some of the ways that the coronavirus will, and won't, change the plans for the space agency's latest launch.

Astronauts have been quarantining since before it was cool.

Virus researchers say there is virtually no chance that the new coronavirus was released as result of a laboratory accident in China or anywhere else.

The assessment, made by more than half-a-dozen scientists familiar with lab accidents and how research on coronaviruses is conducted, casts doubt on recent claims that a mistake may have unleashed the coronavirus on the world.

Updated at 10 a.m. ET

It's a strange and tragic pattern in some cases of COVID-19: The patient struggles through the first week of illness, and perhaps even begins to feel a little better.

Then suddenly they crash.

The new coronavirus is killing hundreds each day and swamping hospitals around the world. But catching the disease does not mean you will end up in the ICU.

"There are many patients that are fine and that are at home," says Michelle Ng Gong, the chief of critical care medicine at the Montefiore Health System in New York City. Those who don't need a hospital make up "I would dare say, in fact, the vast majority of people," she says.

SpaceX successfully launched 60 communications satellites on Monday using a single rocket.

It's the second time in less than a year that Elon Musk's company has made such a launch, marking a dramatic increase in the number of satellites in orbit.

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A commercial satellite image shows just how much of Grand Bahama Island is underwater following days of torrential rain and massive storm surge from Hurricane Dorian.

Updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

President Trump Monday announced his intention to create a "space force" that would oversee the military's activities off-world.

"When it comes to defending America, it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space," Trump said at a meeting of the National Space Council, which oversees the nation's space policy. "We must have American dominance in space. So important."

Updated: 10:45 a.m. ET

North Korea closed its nuclear test site in spectacular fashion Thursday, blasting the site in what one observer described as a "huge explosion."

Scientists have caught Mars crying salty tears.

Photos from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show dark streaks flowing down Martian slopes. The streaks appear in sunny spots or when the weather is warm, and they fade when the temperature drops.

Mike Massimino is one of the last people to ever see the Hubble Space Telescope in person.

From inside his orbiting space shuttle, the telescope first appeared on the horizon as a star, says Massimino, who was an astronaut on the final mission to service the space telescope in 2009.

In space, all they have is instant.

"For an instant coffee, it's an excellent instant coffee," says Vickie Kloeris, who manages the space station's food supply for NASA. Astronauts are allotted up to three freeze-dried cups (pouches, actually) a day, and Kloeris says it's "extremely popular."

But, she adds, "Can it compete with brewed espresso? No."

Update at 6:46 a.m. ET. Launch Scrubbed:

Early on Tuesday, SpaceX scrubbed a scheduled launch, citing technical problems. The next possible attempt is Friday at 5:09 ET, NASA said.

Our Original Post Continues:

Humanity has snapped detailed portraits of planets and moons throughout our solar system. But there's one missing from the album: Pluto.

Although Pluto was discovered in 1930, it has remained stubbornly hard to photograph. The Hubble Space Telescope has taken the best pictures, and frankly, they stink.

NASA is about to launch a new spaceship into orbit, and Mallory Loe has never heard of it.

"I mean, technically, NASA doesn't have another spaceship, do they?" she asks incredulously during a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

She's hardly the only one who doesn't know about this new spacecraft. In fact, none of a half-dozen tourists NPR interviewed in the museum's lobby was aware of the Orion spaceship.

Earlier this week NASA announced that two private companies will build spaceships to take astronauts to the International Space Station. NASA hopes that both models will eventually be used by space tourists to get into orbit. Which got us wondering, which one would we rather fly in?

Earlier this week, physicists announced they'd seen evidence of ripples in the fabric of space and time from just moments after the Big Bang. Such ripples were predicted almost a century ago by Albert Einstein.

Einstein's theory of relativity is arguably the 20th century's greatest idea. But not everything he did was right: Some newly uncovered work from the brilliant physicist was wrong. Really, really wrong.