For the first time in nearly a decade, NASA launched astronauts into space from U.S. territory. And for the first time ever, it was on a spacecraft built by a private company, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The company’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket took off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on Saturday after the first attempt was aborted Wednesday. The Crew Dragon spacecraft carries two NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, who are expected to reach the International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday.
Ever since NASA’s Space Shuttle program ended in 2011, the U.S. has used Russia’s Soyuz rockets to take astronauts into space. Sadly, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no big crowds to watch the launch, both on Wednesday and Saturday.
The astronauts even had to virtually hug their families goodbye because of the pandemic.
With Saturday’s launch, SpaceX is on its way to becoming the first private company to carry NASA astronauts to the ISS. The success of NASA’s Demo-2 brings the U.S. closer to eventually bringing astronauts back to the Moon, and then possibly on to Mars.
“I’m the chief engineer,” Musk told CBS News’ Mark Strassmann ahead of Wednesday’s attempt. “So I’d just like to say if it goes right, it’s credit to the SpaceX-NASA team. If it goes wrong, it’s my fault.”
Just before Saturday’s rescheduled launch, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine praised Musk. “[He’s] brought vision and inspiration,” he said Friday at a NASA news conference. “He’s brilliant, he’s capable.”
Wednesday’s launch was only 16 minutes from takeoff, but unfavorable weather conditions kept the rocket and spacecraft from blasting the two astronauts to the ISS. Rocket fuel had been loaded and the astronauts were settled in the hatch with their SpaceX spacesuits.
The weather cooperated for Saturday’s launch, despite NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine noting earlier in the day that there remained a “50% chance of cancellation” due to weather. The launch went off without a hitch, and the reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that carried the Crew Dragon capsule into orbit safely detached from the capsule and returned to Earth’s atmosphere, where it landed
From here, the mission will see NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley head to the International Space Station – a 19-hour journey. The Crew Dragon capsule will then dock with the station and deliver its passengers and cargo. NASA will determine the return trip timing for Behnken and Hurley at a later date.
You can watch the full launch right here.