CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – SpaceX, the personal rocket firm of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, launched two Americans into orbit from Florida on Saturday in a landmark mission marking the primary spaceflight of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in 9 years.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at three:22 p.m. EDT (1922 GMT), launching Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a 19-hour trip aboard the corporate’s newly designed Crew Dragon capsule certain for the International Space Station.
Just earlier than liftoff, Hurley stated, “SpaceX, we’re go for launch. Let’s light this candle,” paraphrasing the well-known remark uttered on the launch pad in 1961 by Alan Shepard, the primary American flown into house.
Minutes after launch, the first-stage booster rocket of the Falcon 9 separated from the higher second-stage rocket and flew itself again to Earth to descend safely onto a touchdown platform floating within the Atlantic.
High above the Earth, the Crew Dragon jettisoned moments later from the second-stage rocket, sending the capsule on its option to the house station.
The exhilarating spectacle of the rocket hovering flawlessly into the heavens got here as a welcome triumph for a nation gripped by racially-charged civil unrest in addition to ongoing concern and financial upheaval from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Falcon 9 took off from the identical launch pad utilized by NASA’s remaining house shuttle flight, piloted by Hurley, in 2011. Since then, NASA astronauts have needed to hitch rides into orbit aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.
“It’s incredible, the power, the technology,” stated U.S. President Donald Trump, who was at Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida for the launch. “That was a beautiful sight to see.”
The mission’s first launch try on Wednesday was referred to as off with lower than 17 minutes remaining on the countdown clock. Weather once more threatened Saturday’s launch, however cleared in time to proceed with the mission.
NASA chief Jim Bridenstine has stated resuming launches of American astronauts on American-made rockets from U.S. soil is the house company’s high precedence.
“I’m breathing a sigh of relief, but I will also tell you I’m not gonna celebrate until Bob and Doug are home safely.” Bridenstine stated.
For Musk, the launch represents one other milestone for the reusable rockets his firm pioneered to make spaceflight less expensive and extra frequent. And it marks the primary time commercially developed house automobiles – owned and operated by a non-public entity somewhat than NASA – have carried Americans into orbit.
The final time NASA launched astronauts into house aboard a model new car was 40 years in the past at first of the house shuttle program.
Musk, the South African-born high-tech entrepreneur who made his fortune in Silicon Valley, can also be chief government of electrical carmaker and battery producer Tesla Inc. He based Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX, formally generally known as Space Exploration Technologies, in 2002.
Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, NASA staff below contract to fly with SpaceX, are anticipated to stay on the house station for a number of weeks, aiding a short-handed crew aboard the orbital laboratory.
Boeing Co, producing its personal launch system in competitors with SpaceX, is anticipated to fly its CST-100 Starliner car with astronauts aboard for the primary time subsequent 12 months. NASA has awarded practically $eight billion mixed to SpaceX and Boeing for growth of their rival rockets.
Trump additionally hailed the launch as a serious advance towards the purpose of finally sending people to Mars.
He was joined on the viewing by Musk, in addition to Vice President Mike Pence, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Florida congressman Matt Gaetz and Senator Rick Scott.
Earlier on Saturday, the crew bid goodbye to their households. Prior to climbing right into a specifically designed Tesla vehicle for the trip to the launch website, Behnken informed his younger son, “Be good for mom. Make her life easy.”
During the drive, Behnken and Hurley handed former astronaut Garrett Reisman who held an indication saying, “Take me with you.”
Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Bill Berkrot and Paul Simao