Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk-owned SpaceX created history by becoming the first private rocket company to launch two American astronauts toward orbit from Florida on Saturday (May 30). The mission is significant as it marks the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from Ameircan soil after a gap of over nine years.
Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT) in a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for a 19-hour ride aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule which will take the duo to the International Space Station. According to NASA, Crew Dragon separated from its second stage booster at 3:35 and has entered orbit.
“It’s incredible, the power, the technology,” said US President Donald Trump, who was at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida for the launch, “That was a beautiful sight to see.”
“Thank you for the first human ride for Falcon 9,” co-commander Doug Hurley said from the flight deck after Dragon reached orbit. “It was incredible … appreciate all the hard work and thanks for the great ride to space.”
“It’s been way too long,” Jim Bridenstine, the Nasa administrator, said of the launch. “It was just an amazing day. I’m breathing a sigh of relief but I won’t be celebrating until Bob and Doug are home safely.”
“It’s really hard to believe this is real. This is a dream come true for me and everyone at SpaceX, the result of a tremendous number of smart people working tremendously hard to make this day happen,” said Musk.
It is to be noted that the first launch try of the mission was cancelled on Wednesday with less than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock due to bad weather. On Saturday too, weather threatened the launch but it cleared on time to begin the mission.
Talking to media, NASA chief Jim Bridenstine asserted that the top priority of the US-based space agency is to resume launches of American astronauts on American-made rockets from US soil.
The 53-year-old Hurley and 49-year-old Behnken would remain at the ISS several weeks and will assist a short-handed crew aboard the orbital laboratory.