NASA, SpaceX Launch American Astronauts Into Space, First Time Since 2011

May 30, 2020 Updated: May 31, 2020

NASA and SpaceX have completed a historic launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center, marking the first time a private company has ever sent people into orbit and the first time in nearly a decade that a space-bound aircraft has taken off from U.S. soil.

The rocket lifted off on schedule at 3:22 p.m. ET, propelling the Crew Dragon capsule carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station on a test flight dubbed Demo-2.

NASA said in the tense lead-up to liftoff: “We are launching astronauts to the @Space_Station from  @NASAKennedy for the first time in nine years.”

The launch was initially slated for May 27, but NASA scrubbed it due to unfavorable weather conditions. Forecasters had put the odds of acceptable conditions at 50-50 for the historic liftoff.

The Crew Dragon is the first manned spaceflight to launch from the United States since 2011.

Epoch Times Photo
The Falcon 9 rocket at Mach 1, on May 30, 2020. (NASA)

SpaceX and NASA monitored the weather at Kennedy Space Center, where rain, thick clouds, and the chance of lightning threatened another postponement. They also monitored it all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland.

Waves and wind need to be within certain limits in case the astronauts have to make an emergency splashdown on the way to orbit.

Minutes after liftoff, a NASA technician called out in confidence: “They’re continuing to make their way into orbit!”

Since 2011, American astronauts going to the International Space Station took off from Russia. They’ll now depart from the United States on SpaceX capsules, powered by rockets that can land on platforms and be partially reused.

The Crew Dragon is propelled by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which accelerates to a speed of approximately 17,000 miles per hour during a trip that takes around 19 hours.

Orbiting about 250 miles above Earth, the space station—about the size of a football field—typically houses six astronauts who conduct scientific experiments.

Epoch Times Photo
A view of the NASA live feed of the joint NASA/SpaceX mission, on May 30, 2020. (NASA)

The mission, Demo-2, is the final step in certifying the capsule for longer missions, with plans to reach the Moon and Mars in the coming years.

“Demo-2 is the final major test for SpaceX’s human spaceflight system to be certified by NASA for operational crew missions to and from the International Space Station,” SpaceX said on its website, adding that the company “is returning human spaceflight to the United States with one of the safest, most advanced systems ever built.”

Crew Dragon will remain at the space station for an undetermined amount of time before taking Hurley and Behnken back to Earth.

SpaceX Crew Capsule
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (R) and Doug Hurley talk to the media in front of the Crew Dragon spacecraft at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., on Oct. 10, 2019. (Alex Gallardo/AP Photo)

The main priority of the mission is to test the capsule and get the astronauts to the station and back safely.

Behnken, 49, a former U.S. Air Force test pilot, flew twice to the International Space Station, most recently in February 2010, logging more than 708 hours in space.

“I’m just really excited,” Behnken said in a press conference on May 1. Calling it “a dream of every test pilot school student to fly on a brand new spaceship,” he said he wished his son was with him.

Hurley, 53, a former fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, also flew twice to space.

“We as astronauts, you cherish every flight assignment if you want to continue to fly in space,” Hurley said. “I’m excited to be a part of the mission.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.

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