California’s SpaceX successfully returned astronauts to space Saturday on an American-built space vehicle launched form U.S. soil.
The Falcon 9 rocket carrying astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 12:22 p.m. Pacific time, ending NASA‘s nine years of reliance on Russian rockets since the end of the Space Shuttle program.
Just under three minutes into the flight, the second stage engine ignited, sending the Crew Dragon capsule toward a rendezvous with the International Space Station. And just over 10 minutes after launch, the rocket’s first stage landed successfully on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean.
“This is a unique moment where all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again, and that is launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Tuesday.
The launch of the Crew Dragon capsule was originally planned for Wednesday, but bad weather in the flight path caused the mission to be scrubbed just 15 minutes before takeoff.
The company and its founder, Elon Musk, have dubbed the space station trips a stepping stone for bolder plans, most notably returning to the Moon and ultimately flying crewed missions to Mars.
“This is a dream come true, I think for me and everyone at SpaceX,” he said. “When starting SpaceX in 2002, I really did not think this day would occur.”
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence flow to Cape Canaveral to witness the historic launch from the Kennedy Space Center.
“It’s incredible, the power, the technology,” said Trump. “That was a beautiful sight to see.”
Behnken and Hurley are both veteran NASA astronauts. Behnken, who has master’s and doctorate degrees in mechanical engineering from Caltech, is an Air Force colonel who served as a mission specialist on two space shuttle missions. Hurley, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was a pilot on two space shuttle missions.
During the 19-hour journey to the space station, Hurley and Behnken will test the flight capabilities of the spaceship, although it is designed to essentially fly itself and autonomously dock with the station.
The astronauts are expected to dock at the giant orbiting laboratory on Sunday morning.