NASA Successfully Launches SpaceX Into Orbit, 2 Americans Scheduled To Arrive At International Space Station On Sunday
A rocket ship built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company thundered away from Earth with two Americans on Saturday, ushering in a new era in commercial space travel and putting the U.S. back in the business of launching astronauts into orbit from U.S. soil for the first time in nearly a decade.
NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off at 3:22 p.m. local time from the same launch pad used to send Apollo crews to the moon a half-century ago. Minutes later, they slipped safely into orbit.
“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said just before ignition, borrowing the words used by Alan Shepard on America’s first human spaceflight, in 1961.
The two men are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station, 400 kilometres above Earth, on Sunday for a stay of up to four months, after which they will come home with a Right Stuff-style splashdown at sea.
The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.
NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would would be a morale-booster.
“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before launch.
President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence flew in for the launch attempt for the second time in four days.
“I’m so proud of the people at NASA, all the people that worked together, public and private. When you see a sight like that it’s incredible,” Trump said after liftoff.
Inside Kennedy Space Center, attendance was strictly limited because of the coronavirus, and the small crowd of a few thousand was a shadow of what it would have been without the threat of COVID-19. By NASA’s count, over 3 million viewers tuned in online.
Despite NASA’s insistence that the public stay safe by staying home, spectators gathered along beaches and roads hours in advance.