By Janelle Burrell

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A historic day and mission is expected to take place on Wednesday in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Two NASA astronauts will launch to the International Space Station from United States soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

NASA Deputy Administrator James Morhard joined CBS3 from the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.

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Morhard calls the mission “a real milestone.”

“You think about NASA and throughout its history, we’ve designed, we’ve built, and then launched and operated spacecrafts and rockets,” Morhard said. “This is the first time that we’re using a commercial entity to really develop and build this rocket in a partnership with us and that’s never happened before so we’re going to have the first time in history astronauts going up in a commercial spacecraft.”

He says NASA is trying to commercialize lower orbit even further.

NASA is working to be one of many customers sending people to space. They are trying to increase innovation in order to lower the cost to travel to space.

“Space X is going to be first to launch,” Morhard said. “This is certainly the start of a new era in space travel, for sure.”

The launch of a rocket or spacecraft normally draws a large crowd to Kennedy Space Center, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, NASA is encouraging people not to travel to the space station.

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There will be live coverage on NASA television for those interested in watching.

This is an exciting time for NASA and space exploration. Morhard says he gets the chills thinking about what could come out of the next couple of years.

“We’re just getting started,” Morhard said. “In July, the planets are aligned. We’re going to launch a mission called Perseverance, which is such an appropriate name for right now in our time in history.”

The goal of the mission is to collect samples on the surface of Mars. NASA has landed on Mars eight times, and Morhard says it is not easy.

“It’s very different than the moon,” Morhard said. “We have three very expensive craters there to prove it. But with that, we’re going to have a helicopter on that mission and it’s bigger than one you’d find at some place like Best Buy.”

They are planning to use the helicopter to map out the terrain quicker than the rovers would have in the past.

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Janelle Burrell