SpaceX, NASA make history with first launch of astronauts from US soil in years

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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (right) and Doug Hurley sit in a Tesla after walking out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30. 


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Welcome to space history, SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Elon Musk’s space company passed the crucial first part of its final test flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program on Saturday. The Crew Dragon spacecraft successfully launched atop a fiery Falcon 9 rocket from Florida with two NASA astronauts on board.

Crew Dragon lifted off at the scheduled time of 12:22 p.m. PT.  

The crewed Demo-2 mission is a human-spaceflight first for SpaceX. It also marks the return of astronaut launches from US soil for the first time since the end of the shuttle era in 2011. 

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (right) and Doug Hurley sit in a Tesla after walking out of the Operations and Checkout Building on their way to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Crew Dragon spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30. 


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NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are now on their way to visit the International Space Station, where they’re scheduled to dock at 7:27 a.m. PT on Sunday morning. NASA TV is providing coverage of the mission and will livestream the arrival activities. 

“It was incredible. Appreciate all the hard work. Thanks for the great ride to space,” the crew said after reaching orbit about 12 minutes into the flight.  

The Falcon 9 booster used to propel Crew Dragon successfully returned for a clean landing on SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You droneship. 

The coronavirus pandemic didn’t slow down the launch schedule as NASA and SpaceX adjusted their working protocols and monitored the astronauts during a pre-flight quarantine period.

“Our country has been through a lot. But this is a unique moment when all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again, and that is to launch American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil to the space station,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a briefing on Tuesday.

This might be the first big step for Demo-2, but there’s more to come. After spending time on the ISS, Behnken and Hurley will return to Earth inside Crew Dragon to complete the mission. If all goes smoothly, SpaceX will start regular operational Crew Dragon missions, a sign that NASA will no longer need to rely on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the ISS.

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