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NASA And SpaceX Launch First Astronauts To Orbit From U.S. Since 2011

After an aborted launch attempt to the International Space Station on Wednesday, the weather cleared and the launch went ahead on Saturday.

A SpaceX Falcon 9, with NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken in the Dragon crew capsule, lifts off from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Saturday.

Updated at 3:37 p.m. ET

NASA astronauts are heading to space from U.S. soil for the first time in nine years aboard SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, the maiden crewed flight of the innovative spacecraft.

The mission, which is sending Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station, is a bold new venture for the space agency’s plan to allow commercial companies to take its astronauts into low-Earth orbit.

The duo left a fiery plume behind at Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39A at 3:22 p.m. ET as they rode SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket toward a rendezvous with station in about 19 hours time. On Wednesday, storms and a tornado warning upended a launch attempt, with the veteran space shuttle astronauts suited up and strapped into the Dragon before the mission was scrubbed.

“It was incredible. Appreciate the great ride to space,” Hurley told flight controllers.

Similar weather concerns dogged the launch and nearly forced a second delay, but NASA and SpaceX decided early Saturday that conditions were trending in the right direction.

The Falcon 9 booster separated and guided itself to a successful landing on a drone ship stationed in the Atlantic. Crew Dragon separated from the rocket at 3:35 p.m. ET and entered orbit.

“It’s incredible, the power, the technology,”said President Trump, who was at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the launch.

The mission marks the first time NASA has sent astronauts into space since the end of the shuttle program in 2011, after it relied for nearly a decade on Russian Soyuz rockets to get them there. It is also a first for SpaceX, which has ambitions of someday taking paying customers zooming around the Earth.

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49 will put the bell-shaped Dragon through its paces on the way to the station. Dragon, which on the surface resembles an updated Apollo-era command module, sports a sleek interior and oversized touchscreen controls. It is being carried by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has been used successfully dozens of times to put satellites and space-station cargo into orbit.

The mission is also important for NASA, as its success would return astronaut launches to American soil, while ostensibly freeing up the agency’s own resources to conduct exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.

Such a launch, if successful, would mark the first time NASA has sent astronauts into space from the U.S. since the end of the shuttle program in 2011. It would also be a first for SpaceX, which has ambitions of someday taking paying customers zooming around the Earth.

NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken will travel to the International Space Station aboard the Dragon capsule. The bell-shaped capsule resembles the spacecraft of the Apollo-era, but its sleek interior sports oversized touchscreen controls. The capsule will be carried atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has been used successfully dozens of times to put satellites and space-station cargo into orbit.

The launch is important to NASA, which has depended on Russian Soyuz rockets to get its astronauts into space for nearly a decade. The success of a SpaceX flight would return astronaut launches to the U.S., while ostensibly freeing up the agency’s own resources to conduct exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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