NASA resumes human spaceflight from US soil with historic SpaceX launch

The mission marks the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from US soil in nine years

Reuters May 30, 2020
The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket, is connected to the crew access arm and launch tower on Pad39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

CAPE CANAVERAL: SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched two Americans toward orbit from Florida on Saturday in a mission that marks the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from US soil in nine years.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre at 3:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT), launching Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a 19-hour ride aboard the company’s newly designed Crew Dragon capsule bound for the International Space Station.

The astronauts — Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49 — were blasted off from the same launch pad used in 2011 by NASA’s final space shuttle flight, which was piloted by Hurley. Since then, NASA astronauts have had to hitch rides into orbit aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

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For Musk, who is also CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Inc (TSLA.O), the first manned SpaceX launch represents another milestone for the reusable rockets his company pioneered to make space flight less costly.

SpaceX, founded by Musk in 2002 and formally known as Space Exploration Technologies, has never previously flown humans into orbit, only cargo.

It marked the first time commercially developed space vehicles - owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA - have carried Americans into orbit.

NASA has awarded nearly $8 billion combined to SpaceX and Boeing Co (BA.N) for development of rival space launch systems.

The last time NASA launched astronauts into space aboard a brand new vehicle was four decades ago at the outset of the shuttle program.

The two astronauts are NASA employees under contract to fly with Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX. Plans call for them to remain at the space station for several weeks, assisting a short-handed crew aboard the orbital laboratory.


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