Elon Musk’s SpaceX and NASA blasted two astronauts into orbit, marking the first human launch from U.S. soil in nearly a decade and a new partnership between industry and government aimed at revitalizing the country’s space ambitions.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center 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.
- Since the end of the space shuttle program, America has paid Russia to ferry its astronauts to and from the space station.
- Mission marks first human launch from U.S. soil since 2011, start of new era of corporate-driven space missions
- First attempt was cancelled minutes from blast-off
- Donald Trump and Mike Pence witness launch in Florida
Just before liftoff, Hurley said, “SpaceX, we’re go for launch. Let’s light this candle,” paraphrasing the famous comment uttered on the launch pad in 1961 by Alan Shepard, the first American flown into space. Minutes after launch, the first-stage booster rocket of the Falcon 9 separated from the upper second-stage rocket and flew itself back to Earth to descend safely onto a landing platform floating in the Atlantic.
“Mission marks first human launch from U.S. soil since 2011, start of new era of corporate-driven space missions.”
After falling on some hard times, Space Coast is looking to restart the economy and revitalize Florida by welcoming back tourists and visitors. “We certainly saw an economic downturn after 2011 when the shuttle program left because a lot of people connected to the space program became unemployed or they relocated,” said Peter Cranis, Space coast Office of Tourism Executive Director.
Elon Musk, the billionaire and CEO of SpaceX, called it “a day that I think everyone can be proud of.”
“This event is something that all of humanity can get excited about,” he said.
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. Its SpaceX Falcon 9 booster has been used successfully dozens of times to put satellites and space-station cargo into orbit.
The Dragon-Falcon 9 configuration is a far cry from the winged space shuttle, but the SpaceX capsule has considerable safety advantages. Unlike the shuttle, it sits on top of the rocket, therefore avoiding debris that can fall off during launch and potentially damage the spacecraft — a problem that doomed the space shuttle Columbia in 2003. The position also makes it easy to eject the capsule if the rocket itself runs into trouble.
That’s not to say that SpaceX hasn’t had safety issues over the years. In 2015, one of its uncrewed rockets exploded on the way to the space station. But overall, SpaceX has enjoyed a good track record in its eight years of flying cargo to the space station.