SpaceX and NASA successfully launched two astronauts to the International Space Station on Saturday evening. It will be the first commercial space journey with astronauts on board, and the first launch of that kind from US soil since 2011.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew to space aboard SpaceX’s new Crew Dragon, atop a Falcon 9 rocket. The rocket lifted off at 9:22 p.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in the US. After twelve minutes, the Crew Dragon entered orbit.
The launch is historic in several respects. It’s the first astronaut launch from US soil since 2011. That’s when the last Space Shuttle flew into space. Since then, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz rockets and capsules to fly to the International Space Station.
It is also the first time that a commercial company has made a capsule for astronauts. The Crew Dragon was built by SpaceX, which received more than two billion euros from NASA to build such a spaceship.
Because of that historical value, US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, among others, were present at the launch. At first it looked like the weather might throw a spanner in the works, but half an hour before launch, the skies over Cape Canaveral and the ocean cleared again. The launch was initially scheduled to take place on Wednesday, but was then held back 17 minutes before lift-off.
The Falcon 9 that the astronauts went up with has flown before. After launch, the rocket’s first stage successfully landed on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean.