NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are now on their way to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The flight marks the first-ever crewed space launch by a private company, and is the first crewed NASA launch from US soil since 2011.
SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon capsule into orbit Saturday, marking the first time NASA astronauts traveled into space aboard a commercially built spacecraft and rocket — a major milestone in human spaceflight.
It was also the first time American astronauts launched from the U.S. since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011.
Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 p.m. ET on a test flight to the International Space Station. The smooth launch represents a key accomplishment for SpaceX and the commercial spaceflight industry.
About 10 minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket’s reusable first stage fell back to Earth and successfully landed upright on SpaceX’s drone ship off the coast of Florida.
Shortly after, mission controllers radioed a jubilant message to the crew, wishing Behnken and Hurley a good mission.
“It was incredible,” Behnken said from orbit. “Appreciate all the hard work and thanks for the great ride to space.”
Behnken and Hurley will now spend around 18 hours orbiting the Earth before their capsule makes its rendezvous with the space station. The spacecraft is expected to dock Sunday at around 10:29 a.m. ET.
The milestone event has garnered widespread interest. President Donald Trump witnessed the launch from the Kennedy Space Center, becoming the first sitting president to witness a crewed launch in person since October 1998, when Bill Clinton watched the space shuttle Discovery blast off.
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The test flight is the last major milestone for SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a joint public-private partnership to develop new spacecraft for trips into low-Earth orbit. Since the end of the space shuttle program, NASA has spent more than $80 million per seat to hitch rides to the space station aboard Russian capsules and rockets.
SpaceX received more than $3 billion from NASA to develop the Crew Dragon capsule, and the company has spent the past six years modifying and testing the spacecraft. An uncrewed version of the capsule is already used to ferry cargo to the space station, but this will be SpaceX’s inaugural flight with humans onboard.
If successful, SpaceX could begin flying crews to the orbiting outpost in August, according to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.