SpaceX is scheduled to launch two NASA astronauts into orbit this afternoon—weather permitting—to kick off a new era of corporate-driven space missions.

No company has ever flown commercially developed hardware carrying humans and linked up with the international space station. If Space Exploration Technologies Corp. reaches that goal, it will be the first human launch from U.S. soil since 2011 and mark a major shift in the country’s space endeavors. It also would represent a long-awaited milestone for NASA and a resounding…

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