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Two NASA astronauts are now in quarantine ahead of historic SpaceX launch

They've already been in a bubble for months, and it's not because of COVID-19.

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Eric Mack
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NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken familiarize themselves with SpaceX's Crew Dragon.

SpaceX

The first astronauts to hitch a ride to space in a SpaceX Crew Dragon are also the first humans to leave the planet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have begun a mandatory quarantine two weeks ahead of their scheduled May 27 launch to the International Space Station.

What might surprise you is that the quarantine isn't because of the coronavirus. 

"'Flight crew health stabilization' is a routine part of the final weeks before liftoff for all missions to the space station," NASA's Anna Heiney explained in a blog post. 

Hurley and Behnken are about to spend several hours in a cramped capsule flying to orbit, where they'll join NASA's Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner for a number of weeks on the ISS. The five men will be living in a contained space inhaling each other's recirculated breath and working in close quarters. 

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Watch this: SpaceX set to to take its first astronauts into space

In other words, it's a perfect environment for transmitting viruses, so NASA already takes pandemic-level precautions that most of us are just now getting used to as a matter of routine. 

The astronauts and their families have actually been in a standard "quarantine bubble" since before the time the United States began to go into lockdown, Behnken told CBS News in mid-March.

During the final quarantine period, which began Wednesday, the astronauts will come in contact only with their immediate families and essential SpaceX and NASA personnel who go through medical screenings. 

For much of the next week, Hurley and Behnken will be at home with their families in Houston for what Hurley describes as a "rest period" before heading back to Florida on May 20 to begin the final preparations for launch.

The planned blastoff May 27 will be the first SpaceX mission to carry humans to space and the first crewed space mission starting from US soil since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011. The mission has been dubbed Demo-2.

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Watch this: NASA and SpaceX usher in new era of humans in space